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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 18

Anne and Debora were in the kitchen when I came out of the study. Anne informed me that Johnny had got back from the yard, and he and Joseph had gone for a walk. Apparently, Joseph had found something he wanted to show Johnny. Arthur, she said, was over in his flat with Trevor. I phoned him and asked him to come over to speak with Bernard. Miss Jenkins came out of the study just as I was finishing the call. I inquired if she would like a lift back into Dunford.

"Thank you, Mr. Carlton, but I don't think that would be wise. Best if I walk back down to the Crooked Man and call for a taxi," she responded. So, I showed her to the door. Just as she was about to leave, she turned. "Don't worry Mr. Carlton, the Hendersons are amateurs, nasty amateurs, yes, but amateurs none the less. Now, my family are professional, and we owe both you and Mr. LeBrun a debt."

She turned and left. Returning to the kitchen, I met Arthur coming in through the back door. I directed him to Bernard, who was still in the study. He went through; I decided to make some tea, then thought I better make coffee for the rest. The kettle was just about to boil when Bernard came through to the kitchen.

"Ah, good, I see you are sorting the essentials," he said. "Any chance you have a tripod around that I could use for a bit."

I told him there was one in the cupboard to the right of my desk. He thanked me and returned to the study. When I took coffees in for him and Arthur, he was busy setting the tripod up with a small video camera on the top of it.

Before I could ask, Bernard informed me that Arthur had agreed to make a statement about Brother Peter. Bernard stated that it was easier all round if they videoed the statement. I left and returned to the kitchen, thinking if anything happened to Arthur, it was a lot easier to challenge a written statement than a video one. That was not a comforting thought.

Anne had poured my tea for me and coffee for her and Debora. She informed me that they were going into the lounge to look at colour swatches. I gathered from the tone of her voice that this was a strictly women-only activity. As a result, I sat at the kitchen table and started to work my way through the Sunday papers. I was in the middle of an article on superfoods when Johnny ran in with Joseph just behind him.

"Dad," he shouted, "you've got to come and see what Joseph has found."

Well, I did not seem to be wanted anywhere else, so I decided to go along with the boys and see what they had found. They led me down to the bottom end of the land that surrounded the Priory. In all, there were just over twelve acres, and to be honest, I had not really had a look at the property since we had moved in. One way or another, there had always been more important things to do.

At the far end of the land, marking one boundary was a pond. To be more precise, it was a tidal pool connected by a narrow channel to the river estuary. Nothing particularly remarkable about that as far as I could see. Joseph, though, who had run on ahead, was pointing to the channel. It did not seem very interesting to me. All I saw was a muddy creek, eight-foot-wide and about thirty feet in length, leading straight to the estuary. Then it hit me. It went straight to the estuary. Inlets did not do that. Even the straightest of them had kinks or bends in them; this one was dead straight. It had to be a man-made construct.

Coming closer, I could see where some mud had been dislodged from the side of the channel. What was exposed was stonework — and finely masoned stone at that.

"I was poking around with a stick," Joseph stated. "A chunk of mud fell away, and I saw the stone."

"We checked further along," Johnny informed me. "It's stone-lined almost to the Blackwater."

"It probably was to the Blackwater when it was built," I observed. "Remember this side of the river is heavily silted up. I wonder what it was for?"

"Probably a millrace," Joseph stated.

"Don't think there is enough water in the stream to power a mill," I commented.

"Not that sort of mill, Uncle Mike," Joseph stated, looking at me with an element of scorn in his face. "A tide mill."

"We ought to clean it out and see what's there," Johnny suggested.

"That might not be a good idea," I commented. "This could be important. I think we need to speak to somebody from the county archaeology team about it first. I can do that tomorrow. Hopefully, they can get someone along to have a look at it."

Joseph looked a bit disappointed as he walked along the edge of the channel. Then he stopped, turned towards me. "Uncle Mike, can I stay here for a bit to see what the archaeology team have to say?"

"Yes, Dad, can he?" Johnny asked. "He did find it, so I think he should be in on what happens."

"I'll think about it. You will have to ask your parents; there are also a couple of problems with you staying."

"What are those?" Johnny asked.

"For a start, where would he sleep?" I asked. "We've got Anne's sister coming tomorrow for the week, so she'll need the spare guest room. We're not short of bedrooms, but we are short of beds.

"Next, Joseph will need some more clothes. Especially if he is going to be mucking about down here."

"There's the room Arthur's in," Johnny informed me. "He's moving into his flat, so that will be free."

"Yes, Johnny," I replied. "The room will be free, but there is no bed in it. Arthur has taken that over to the flat. So where is Joseph to sleep?"

"He can share with me," Johnny said. I was not too happy with that idea, but there was something about the way Johnny said it that made me think it was probably not a good idea to challenge him on it. Anyway, Joseph looked quite happy with the idea. I wondered if each knew the other was gay.

"As for clothes, that's not a problem," Joseph stated. "We're staying in London at the moment, so I can go back with Mam and Dad and grab some and get the train back to Southminster."

There are times when any parent knows it is not worth the effort of trying to put up an argument. You can be sure that for every objection you come up with the kids will have an answer. Your only option is either to put your foot down and say no — or give in. I decided to give in. A sixteen and a fifteen-year-old were just too much opposition.

I took some photos using my phone, then we returned to the house. Joseph and Johnny were discussing the millrace. Johnny asked how many monks would have been in the priory when it was a religious house.

"Not many," Joseph replied. "Priories are subordinate houses to a monastery or convent. In England, priories were often occupied by lay brothers who worked the land for the monastery. There would be a prior who was a monk who would oversee them and a few supervisory monks, but most of the inhabitants would not have taken holy orders. To some extent, a priory was something like a medieval workhouse. You went and joined it if you had nowhere else to go. You got food and somewhere to sleep; they would also look after you when you got old."

I was impressed with Joseph's knowledge and mentioned it.

"I got interested in English monasticism when we did Henry the Eighth. You know Henry was not the first to have a go at the monasteries. It had been going on haphazardly since the Fourteenth Century. They were a useful source of money for the crown or the archbishop. Cromwell learnt how to do dissolutions when he was working for Cardinal Wolsey; he dissolved several establishments for the Cardinal. He just took what he had learnt and put it to the service of Henry the Eighth — very efficiently. Typical lawyer."

"Hey, your dad's a lawyer," Johnny said.

"Precisely," Joseph replied.

I had problems not laughing.

Bernard was sitting in the kitchen when we got back to the house. Joseph immediately asked if he could stay. Wisely, Bernard referred the matter to Debora, who, after hearing the whole explanation of things from Joseph and Johnny, gave her consent, provided Joseph went home tonight and came back with what he needed tomorrow. I promised Joseph that nothing would happen until after he got back.

Sunday dinner was roast beef and all the trimmings. There was a leg of pork in the fridge, which was supposed to be Sunday dinner, but when Anne learnt that Debora was coming over, she had gone and got a joint of beef. I strongly suspect if it had only been Bernard, we would probably have been having the pork and Bernard would have been happy.

Before they left, I had to show everybody the photos I had taken of the millrace. Once they had all had a look and made their comments, Bernard, Debora and Joseph left, but not before Joseph had extracted a promise from Trevor to pick him up from Southminster station in the morning.

Once they had left and I set about finishing the washing up, I found myself in agreement with Anne that we needed a dishwasher installed during the kitchen refit. Clean-up finished, I sat down with Anne to watch some TV, but there was nothing on that interested me, so I went to my study to do some work.

The first thing I did was find the email address for the local archaeology group and sent them copies of the pictures I had taken, together with a short explanation of Joseph's find.

Then I searched online to find out what a tide mill was; I had never heard of one. It turns out that they were waterwheel-powered mills that were driven by water trapped at high tide and released at low tide. After reading a bit about them, I realised I probably had a basis for an article I could sell to a few of the popular-science and history magazines. With that in mind, I started to make notes.

Anne put her head around the door to tell me that it had just gone eleven, and she was off to bed. I wondered where the time had gone but then realised I had some ten pages of notes. Was it worth setting up a project for them?

When I am doing a piece of writing, especially one for which I have to do research, I have a system. I first set up a project on my computer; that is simply a subdirectory under my writing directory. Then, within that project, I set up a notes directory. That is used to hold an instance of my notes database. There is an application I use — it was written for me by a friend some years ago — that allows me to set up a database on a specific subject, make notes which are stored in the database and make links between the notes. The nice thing about it is that it can print the results out as a mind map, which is useful when you come to doing the actual writing.

I was in something of two minds about setting up a new project. There were a lot of notes, and putting them in the note database would make them a lot easier to deal with. However, it would imply that I intended to do something with them. That was not my intention; all I had wanted to do was satisfy my curiosity about something.

In the end, I decided to enter them into a database. There is part of me that has this need to collect information. It is probably the thing which makes me an excellent technical writer. If a subject comes up for an article, there is a good chance that I will have notes about it somewhere on my system. Usually, the problem is to find where have I put those notes; that is where the notes application comes in useful.

So, I created a project called 'The Millrace' and set up the notes database, then entered the notes. It did not take long, and I had just finished putting in the last of them when Johnny put his head round the door to say goodnight. I glanced at the clock. It was quarter to midnight.

"You're up late," I commented. Johnny was usually in bed reasonably early as he had an early start to get to the yard in the morning.

"Don't have to be up early in the morning, so gave Arthur a hand with the move," he stated.

"Is he moved in?" I asked.

"Yes, bit rough and ready, but he will cope. At least, it is his place."

I smiled. I could understand how Arthur felt. He had been welcome here, but he was still a guest. Having a space of one's own was a very different proposition.

"How come you don't have to be up early?" I asked.

"Not going into the yard until the end of the week," Johnny informed me.


"Steve's got a couple of work-experience guys coming in from the college. Said having three to supervise would be too much. Also, he wants me to do the weekend as they are expecting to be busy. It will be the first Sunday in August, and apparently, a lot is going on. Big weekend in the local yachting scene."

"So, what are you planning to do with your spare time?" I asked, thinking there were some jobs around the place I could get him to do.

"Well, Steve suggested I should get some more sailing in. He told me I could use his dinghy any time during the day as he only sails it in the evening." I was about to say that I thought he needed to have an instructor with him, but he got in first. "I've phoned Matthew, and he is willing to take me out in the afternoons; told him I would sort out times with him tomorrow.

"I was wondering if Joseph would like to go out with me?"

"I suspect Joseph would be quite happy to go out in the dinghy with you. Remember he has been sailing on your godfather's yacht," I commented.

"I forgot about that," Johnny said. "You're OK with him coming to stay, aren't you?"

"It's fine, Johnny," I stated. Though to be honest, I had some concerns. I was a bit worried about the dynamics of the situation. Four gay youths aged fifteen to eighteen; that had the potential to be an explosive mix if I ever saw one.

For some reason, I woke early on Monday morning with thoughts about the millrace filling my head. I got up without disturbing Anne, had a quick shower and dressed, then went down to the kitchen. Once I had a mug of tea in hand, I made my way to the study. It was going to be another couple of hours before anyone else could be expected to get up, so I spent the time doing some searching on the internet. Initially, I used Google but then switched to a specialist, academic search engine, which produced a list of obscure papers, most of which would need a trip to either the British Library or the Bodleian to read.

What was becoming apparent was that there was a lot more to mills than I had thought. I had always believed that they ground wheat into flour, but it seems that there were a lot of different types of mill, which could be water- or wind-powered. There was an idea for a book starting to form.

Shortly after seven, I started to hear signs of movement upstairs, so I went through to the kitchen to make another pot of tea and put some coffee on. About ten minutes later, Anne came into the kitchen.

"Coffee?" I asked.

"Please, Luv," she replied. "Need something to get me awake today."

"I thought you had a good sleep. You were asleep when I came up."

"I know, Luv, but you know what I'm like in the morning, and I've got a lot to get done today. Almost wish I had not offered to let Jenny stay while they are doing her bungalow."

"Exactly what are they doing to it?" I asked.

"To be honest, I don't know," Anne replied. "All I know is the council said she had to be out of it for three to four days. They said she could go into a nursing home for the period, but I thought it would be best if she came here. You don't mind?"

"Of course, I don't mind, though I am a bit worried about how she is going to cope with the stairs."

"To be honest, Mike, once we have her up to the bedroom, I think she is going to be stuck up there. I'll take her meals up to her."

I could have kicked myself for not thinking about things before. Anne's sister had broken her back in a riding accident when she was twenty-four. In many ways, she was lucky; although the spinal cord was damaged, it was not severed. As a result, she had some limited mobility in her legs. It was, though, difficult for her to walk, and stairs presented her with a significant problem.

"Look, love, why don't you get the boys to bring the bed down from the guest room and put it in the dining room," I suggested. "We're not using it, and, besides the curtains and carpet, there is nothing in there yet, so using it as a bedroom is not a problem.

"Also, it is close to the hall cloakroom, which has a w.c., and it is not too far from the mudroom, so that she could use the shower facilities in there. That way, she can be down here and able to join us in the kitchen for meals. She would also be able to use the lounge or the library if she wants to."

"You know dear, that's a bloody good idea. I'll get Johnny onto it as soon as he comes down."

"You'll get me onto what?" Johnny asked, coming through the door to the kitchen.

Anne explained. Johnny said it would not be a problem. He would get it done as soon as he had had breakfast. That was my cue to get cooking.

Once breakfast was over, it took Trevor, Arthur and Johnny about half an hour to get the guest-room contents moved down to what was officially the dining room. It then took Anne about an hour and a half to get the room as she wanted it. I excused myself on the grounds that I had urgent work I needed to get on with. That was not a lie; I did have urgent work to get on with: the meteorology book. Bob was pushing me for a sight of it.

I was working on a chapter about global-circulation cells; each hemisphere has three: the Hadley Cell, the Ferrel Cell and the Polar Cell. I was trying to make it sound interesting, which is the job of a technical writer. Anybody can write technical information down in a readable form. It is up to the technical writers to write it down in a way that is not only readable but is also interesting and understandable. The only problem they have is that they also need to be accurate.

Trying to be accurate, interesting and understandable when writing about global-circulation cells was proving to be somewhat tricky. Fortunately, I was saved, at least for the time being, by a phone call. It was a chap from the County Museum service. My email had been forward to him, and as he would be out this way in the afternoon, he was wondering if he could call by to have a look at the feature. I welcomed the excuse to get away from my computer and said yes. Then I went to tell Anne that we would be having a visitor in the afternoon, and could we get an early lunch?

Johnny and Trevor were just moving a wardrobe into the position that Anne wanted, having tried about six other places before. I gave Anne the news, Trevor looked around.

"Fuck," he said. "Joseph texted about half an hour ago that he was getting on the train. I need to get to Southminster to pick him up."

"I'll come with you," Johnny stated.

"No, you won't!" snapped Anne. "Trevor's car is a two-seater; he needs a seat for Joseph. If you want a run out in a car, you can come and give me a hand with my sister."

"Right. Where do you want the dressing table?" Johnny asked, knowing when he was beaten. I gave him a hand to move it. Then I went to the kitchen to make some tea and coffee. Well, I needed an excuse to get away from the meteorology book.

After tea and a couple of biscuits, I had run out of excuses, so it was back to the book. The break had done me some good. I found I could start to make some sense of Hadley, Ferrel and Polar Cells. By the time Anne called lunch, I had most of a chapter written.

I am sure Trevor must have a sense of timing; it's a significant asset in his profession as an actor. Anne had just put the plate of sandwiches down on the table when he and Joseph walked in. Without being asked, I grabbed a bottle of sugar-free cola from the fridge and placed it on the table. I told Joseph about the museum man coming in the afternoon.

Once lunch was finished, Anne left to fetch her sister. She did not insist that Johnny go with her. I did insist that she take the Santa Fe. It was a lot bigger than her car and more accessible for her sister to get in and out of. It also had space so Anne could put her sister's wheelchair in the back. I knew Jenny hated to have to use it, but it was a good idea to have it along just in case.

Trevor went off to give Arthur a hand in sorting his flat out. There were still a couple of things they needed to move in.

I, with the help of Johnny and Joseph, cleaned up the kitchen. Once that was done, I put the leg of pork that was supposed to have been for Sunday in on a low heat to slow roast for tonight's dinner.

We had only just finished the clean-up and food preparation when the doorbell went. I answered it to find a small, slightly plump man in his late fifties or early sixties standing there.

"Sorry, I'm a bit earlier than I indicated," he said. "Portage, Lionel Portage, Museum Services, we spoke this morning." With that, he extracted a business card from his pocket and handed it to me.

I glanced at it. "Please come in Doctor Portage; we weren't expecting you until later."

Doctor Portage entered. As he did so, he kept looking at different bits of the building. "Actually, I had expected to be later. Was supposed to looking at some stonework that has been uncovered during the repairs at Saint Leonard's, but when I got there the place was locked up, and no one appeared to know I was coming. The vicar had been called out to a sick parishioner, and no alternative arrangements had been made. So, I came straight on here.

"Now could we look at this millrace you think you have found?"

"I did not find it," I stated. He looked a bit puzzled. "It was my son and his friend who found it. I think the friend did originally. They're in the kitchen, so we'd better go through. I can introduce you and get you a tea or coffee if you would like."

"A glass of water would be fine if you don't mind. I hope your son and his friend will not be too disappointed. In all likelihood, their find is nothing more than a Victorian drainage channel. Probably built about the same time this place was put up."

We went through to the kitchen. Johnny must have heard the request for a glass of water; he was just pouring one when we entered. He handed it to Doctor Portage. I introduced him to the boys.

"Doctor Portage, are you the Lionel Portage who wrote Medieval Essex, its Buildings and Byways?" Joseph asked.

"Yes," the Doctor replied, somewhat surprised. "You know it."

"Dad got me a copy for Christmas," Joseph replied.

"Ah, so I have sold at least one copy." The Doctor chuckled as he drained his glass. "Would you boys like to show me what you have found."

The boys took him off to the lower end of the property, down by the pond. I followed on at a somewhat slower pace. For a man who must have a good twenty years on me, Doctor Portage is definitely spritely. By the time I caught up with him them, Doctor Portage was on his knees looking at the area of stonework that Joseph had exposed.

"Oh dear, oh dear, I had not come prepared for this," he muttered.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Well, I had not expected this to be anything," he stated. "I checked the county records before I came out this morning, and there is nothing in them to indicate that anything would be here. As a result, I have not brought any of my tools with me."

"What do you need?" Johnny asked.

"A metal rod or something that I can push into the soil to test for resistance, a spade, and a trowel would be useful," the doctor replied. "If you could find a stiff brush, that would be a bonus."

"I'll see what I can find," Johnny said, then sprinted off back to the house.

The Doctor turned to me and started to apologise. He explained that he had been confident that whatever we had found had to be Georgian or more likely Victorian, as none of the sources, including the Little Domesday for Essex, gave any indication of anything on this site before the late Georgian period.

"I thought there had been a priory here," I stated. "After all, the house is called the Priory."

"There's no historical reference to one," Doctor Portage informed me. "There is a reference in thirteen fifty-seven to a grange being located around this area, but it is not shown on the deed map of fourteen hundred."

"What, exactly is a grange?" I asked.

"It's an outlying building under the control of a monastery that is occupied by lay brothers who farm the monastery land," the doctor informed me. At that point, Johnny returned with some tools.

For the next forty-five minutes, Doctor Portage poked, scraped and dug the area around the channel. Then he just stood there shaking his head.

"To be honest, I don't understand it," he stated. "The stonework here is late Norman or early Plantagenet. That is the late Twelfth/ early Thirteenth Century. For this to be here, there must have been something pretty important nearby, but there is no sign of it. I would have expected there to be at least some signs of medieval buildings, but there are none."

"What about the cruck barn?" Joseph asked.

"What cruck barn?" I enquired.

"That one," he replied, pointing to the brick and corrugated iron monstrosity that sat next to the collection of stables and outbuildings.

"That's Victorian brickwork," Doctor Portage said. "Probably the Victorian corrugated iron as well, which was invented in eighteen twenty."

"Have you looked inside?" Joseph asked. I shook my head in answer. To be honest, I had not realised that the barn was part of the property until Matt had pointed it out to me on the site map. I had kept meaning to go and have a look at it but so far had not. Of course, Doctor Portage had not looked at it.

"Then you should look at the inside of it," Joseph said. He started to walk off in the direction of the barn, then turned and looked back at us. "Come on, then."

We followed. Joseph led us up the rise from the pond along the hedge line. I had not realised that there was a path here. There was, though it was clear it was not much used. At the top of the rise, the land flattened out into an overgrown hay meadow that I now knew was part of my property. I'd made a point to sort something out about mowing it. As we walked onto the field, I got a view of the other side of the barn.

It was massive. In the centre of the side facing us were huge double oak doors, some fifteen-feet-plus high.

"If it weren't for the Victorian brickwork and the tin roof, I would say that was a tithe barn," stated Doctor Portage.

"Wait till you see inside," Joseph stated. He led us to the far end of the barn where there was a small door. This he opened and went in, we followed.

There was a gasp. Then I realised that it was my gasp. Inside the building there was what looked like a vaulted cathedral. Doctor Portage pulled out a camera and started taking pictures. As he did so, he kept muttering, "Remarkable."

"So, is it a cruck barn?" I asked.

"It most certainly is," Doctor Portage replied. "The thing is, what is it doing here? There is no church in the vicinity, and I would bet my reputation that this is a tithe barn. They are usually associated with churches or monastic sites."

"Like a priory?" Joseph enquired.

"Yes, a priory could have one, but then you would expect a priory church, and there is not one here," the Doctor stated.

"But there used to be," Joseph responded.

"What do you mean, there used to be?" I asked.

"Uncle Mike, haven't you looked at the plans of the Priory and the outbuildings?"

"Well, I have looked at the ones Matt drew up for the alterations," I stated.

"You need to look at the shape of the East wing," Joseph informed me.

I suggested we needed to go back to the house to look at the plans. As we got back to the house, Anne arrived with Jenny. Johnny and Joseph gave Anne a hand to get Jenny into the house and to her room. In the meantime, I took Doctor Portage through to my study and dug out the plans; I also dug out the maps we had that came with the old deeds.

Doctor Portage started to study the old maps, concentrating on the area around the pond. "Interesting," he muttered. "Now, that is interesting."

"What is?" I asked just as Johnny and Joseph came into the room.

"This map," he indicated one of the old deed maps. "It shows the pond and gives it a name, Pound Pond."

"Is that important?" I enquired.

"It certainly is," the Doctor responded. "It is highly significant."


"The word pound—"

"Can I explain?" Joseph asked. The Doctor nodded, giving Joseph permission to continue. "Uncle Mike, do you know what a dog pound is?"

"Yes, it's a place to hold dogs," I responded.

"And a sheep pound?" Joseph asked.

"It an enclosure to keep sheep in, usually during roundups."

"Right," Joseph stated. "So, if you had a water pound, what would it be?"

"A place to hold … You mean the pond was constructed to hold water?"

"Yes," Joseph responded. "The word pound, when applied to a pond or another body of water, is an artificial construct designed to capture or retain water. What you have is a mill pound, a place constructed to capture water for a mill. If we were to investigate, I think it is likely that we would find some sort of dam at the outlet end of the pond."

"I have no doubt you are right young man," Doctor Portage stated. "It is a pity that we probably will not be able to investigate, at least not for some time."

"Why's that?" Johnny asked. "I thought archaeologists would be happy to dig it up and find out what is there."

"No doubt they would be," the doctor said. "Unfortunately, even if they are the volunteers from the local archaeology society, there are costs to be met. At the moment, the county just does not have the funds to cover anything but the most urgent digs." He turned to Joseph. "What was it you wanted to show me about a church?"

At that point, Anne put her head around the door and said she was making tea and coffee if anyone wanted some. We said yes. Johnny suggested we should move through to the kitchen, as the kitchen table was larger than the table in my study, so better to lay out the maps on.

Once we got through to the kitchen, I cleared a space and put the maps on it. Anne produced mugs of tea and coffee for us. I think the doctor found the idea of having liquids near such documents somewhat disturbing, though he did not say anything. He just asked Joseph what it was he wanted to show us.

"Look at the East wing," he instructed, pointing to that part of the building on the plan. "It's all wrong. For a start, it abuts the back part of the house, not the front. The west wing adjoins the front. This building is not symmetrical. If this were a Georgian building with Victorian additions, you would expect it to be balanced.

"Then, there is this. Look at the shape of the East Wing."

I did; so did Johnny and the doctor. Once you looked at it, it was obvious. The wing was cruciform. All right, one arm of the cross now had a staircase in it, and the other had the bathroom and utility room in it, but the underlying shape was there.

"You mean they converted a church into the house?" Johnny asked.

"No," Joseph stated. "I think they used the foundations of what had once been the church to build on."

"That is quite likely," Doctor Portage stated. "In which case, it throws a completely new perspective on the history of this building. It is certainly older than anyone thought. I wonder, would it be possible to have a look around?"

I told Johnny and Joseph to give the doctor the guided tour.

"What's going on?" Anne asked as the party left to look around. I gave her a synopsis of what we had found.

"I hope that doesn't mean a Grade One listing," she stated. That is something I had not thought about. The implications of a possible Grade One listing terrified me. There was, though, nothing I could do about it.

To take my mind off things, I wandered over to the Stable Block to see how Arthur was getting on with his flat. Going round the back of the block, I went up the new external staircase and knocked on the door. A voice from above informed me the door was open and that they were 'up here', wherever 'up here' was. I entered.

This was the first time I had been over to the Stable Block since Matt's people had finished. It was interesting to see what had been done 'up here'. To my left, a door opened into a large lounge brightly lit by the skylights in the roof. At the end of the room was a door, which I suspected led to the kitchen. On my right was a corridor with two doors off to the side, no doubt to the bedroom and to what I presumed was the bathroom. In front of me was another door, which I suspected went to Arthur's office/server room. Access to it was blocked by a ladder leading up to a trap door in the ceiling.

"Come on up," Trevor said, putting his head over the edge of the trap door. Somewhat gingerly, I ascended the ladder into what turned out to be the clock loft. I had half expected Arthur's transceivers to be up here, but the only sign of technology was some conduit running up one of the walls.

"I thought you had the transceivers up here," I told Arthur.

"Oh, they're up there," he stated, looking upwards. I looked up. There was another trapdoor set in the ceiling of the loft.

"That's the lantern loft," Arthur informed me. "It's a bit of a tight squeeze up there, but it is a good twelve feet higher, which makes a big difference to coverage."

"So, what are you doing up here?" I asked.

"We were just looking at the clock. You know I don't think it would be that difficult to get it running again, it just needs a good clean," Arthur stated.

"I'm not sure I would be too keen on having that chiming away during the night," I stated, looking at a large bell that hung in the far corner of the loft.

"That's not the chime," Arthur informed me. "The chimes are those bars over there." He pointed to some metal bars hanging down from the top of the mechanism on the far side from the bell. "Doubt if they could be heard in the house." To prove his point, he pulled back one of the hammers and released it onto the chime bar. Having heard it, I doubted if it could be heard even in the stable yard.

"So, what is that?" I asked, indicating the bell.

"That's the alarm bell. There used to be a rod that went down to a crank in the stable. There is a handle by the central door. If you turned it, it turned the crank which moved the rod up and down, so rung the bell," Arthur informed me. "I think all the pieces are still in place; they need to be cleaned and oiled. It could be useful."

"Probably for ringing in the New Year," I quipped.

"Yes, that's one use," Arthur stated. "Would you mind if me and Trevor tried to get this lot going again?"

"I don't mind, but do you think you can do it?"

"It's only giant-sized Meccano," Trevor stated.

"And you know Meccano?" I asked.

"Well, you have to have something to pass the time on set," Trevor answered. "Half the time you are sitting around in your trailer waiting to be called for your shots. I was a bit too old for Lego so got Meccano to pass the time."

I permitted them to continue, doubting if they could do much harm. Most of the clock looked to be cast from iron. Then I asked Arthur to show me around his flat. The layout was basically as I had expected. One thing that did surprise me was that there was a separate office for Arthur, which could be accessed from the room he was using as his bedroom.

Arthur had just finished showing me around when Trevor came down from the clock loft. The ladder they had been using telescoped up and folded back into the loft. I congratulated the boys on the decorating they had got done and on the standard of the finish. Then told them they better get cleaned up and come across as we would be having an early dinner.

"Before you go, Mike, could I ask you something?" Trevor asked.

"Yes. What is it?"

"Would it be alright for me to move over here and take the second bedroom?" he enquired.

"You could, but why?" I replied. "You'll be off to start filming in just over a week."

"I don't mean just temporarily," Trevor stated. "What I would like to do is share this place with Arthur. I could cover half the rent, which means he would not have to rely on housing benefits. I don't really have a place of my own, and to be honest, I would rather like one, especially with Mam and Dad breaking up."

"Look, I need to discuss it with Anne and Johnny," I stated. "In principle, I do not have a problem. However, I need to think this through and probably need to talk to my solicitor about it as well. We have just got a lease drafted for Arthur to sign, and I don't know if it would have any impact on that.

"Which reminds me, Arthur, I need to give you a copy of the lease so you can look it over and get it checked."

"I can read it," Arthur stated. "Not sure I will understand it, and I don't know how I can get it checked. Can't afford a solicitor."

"I'll look over it," Trevor stated. "I've read a lot of contracts. Also, you can get help from the Citizens Advice Bureau. There must be one somewhere around here."

"I would not be so sure," Arthur commented. "This is the back of the back of beyond."

When I got back to the house, Doctor Portage, Johnny and Joseph were back around the kitchen table. Joseph was busy drawing some sort of diagram. From the bit of conversation I overheard as I came in, I gathered Doctor Portage was not happy about something.

"What's the problem?" I asked. Thinking one of the boys had probably said something to upset him.

"The idiot who did the survey for listing this place," the doctor replied. "They must have been blind."

I remembered something that Matt had said about the old chap who owned the house being a bit of a hermit and not allowing people inside.

"They may not have been allowed in the building," I informed the doctor. "So far as I understood it, the only reason it was listed was that the façade and west wing were by George Gilbert Scott. All that could be seen from the outside and Scott's architectural records.

"If they had looked at the plans, they should have seen this place was older than Georgian," Doctor Portage stated.

"Did you?" I asked.

"Fair point, fair point," he mumbled. "Anyway, this is getting us nowhere. The immediate problem is to find out what is here. For that, we need a survey done. The problem is there is no money to cover it." He paused for a moment. I was just about to say that there was no point in looking at me to come up with the funds, but before I could, he continued. "There is a PhD student who is doing some work with us. I could ask her to have a look at it if I could find some volunteers to assist her and you are agreeable."

Before I could say anything, Joseph piped up and said he would help with the survey. The moment he said that, Johnny said he would help as well.

"Would that be enough help?" I asked.

"To get a basic survey done, probably yes," the doctor replied.

"Well I will have to discuss it with the wife, but provisionally I would say I agree to a survey but nothing more at the moment," I told him.

That appeared to make the doctor happy. We discussed a couple of procedural matters, and he said he would phone me the next day or Wednesday to let me know about the PhD student. I informed him I would not be here on Wednesday, so he said he would sort it out tomorrow.

Once Doctor Portage had left, Joseph asked me if it was alright for him to stay whilst the survey was being done. I told him I thought he had already made a presumption on that.

"I did a bit, Uncle Mike, didn't I?".

"Yes, Joseph, you did," I replied. "No harm was done though; you can stay, though you need to clear it with your parents."

"I'll phone them after dinner," he said.

Having a half hour or so before I needed to start preparing the veg for dinner, I left the boys and went to my study to deal with my emails, a task at which I was not very successful. After a glance at them confirming there was nothing exceptionally urgent, I found myself entering the information I had picked up from Doctor Portage about millraces into my notes.

Arthur and Trevor did not join us for dinner. Trevor informed us they were going down to the Crooked Man, so that left Anne, Jenny, Johnny, Joseph and myself for dinner. Over the meal, I filled Anne in on developments, not only about what Doctor Portage had said but also about Arthur and Trevor wanting to try to repair the clock. I also mentioned Trevor wanting to flat-share with Arthur. That last piece of information got a dark look from Johnny and a smile from Joseph.

It turned out that Trevor had had several chats with Anne about how things were at home and how uncomfortable he felt there. Apparently, he had his own space — in theory, a small apartment over the garage — but he said it was not really his own. His mum would go in there regularly to check that it was alright, and the cleaners went in twice a week. He felt he had no privacy.

"I can understand that," Johnny said.

"What do you mean?" Anne asked. "We respect your privacy here."

"Yes, you and Dad do, but Mam never did. She was always in my room, looking at things and changing it to how she felt it should be."

"Well, I can assure you I won't be looking in your room," Anne stated. "In fact, I will not be cleaning it. That is your responsibility. Understood?" Johnny nodded and smiled, then asked if it was OK for him to hire a cleaner.

"Actually, Anne, that is one thing we should consider: getting a cleaner," I stated. "Once we have this place sorted, it is going to be quite a job to keep clean, especially if you are at college."

"You're going to college?" Jenny asked Anne.

"Yes," Anne replied. "Got the chance now and thought I would take it."

"I'm so glad," Jenny responded. "I always felt bad that you did not continue your education. It was all my fault."

"How's that?" I asked.

"Anne was doing her A-levels when I had my fall. She dropped out of school to nurse me when I first came out of the hospital. Mother was hopeless. She said she would go to the college and get A-levels once I was back on my feet, but with one thing and another she never did. I have always felt bad about that."

"I never knew," Anne said. "You never said anything."

"Did not want to burden you with my guilt," Jenny replied. "Felt bad that I went to university and you didn't."

This came as a surprise to me. I asked Jenny what she had read.

"Architecture," she replied.

"But you haven't practised," I stated.

"Couldn't," Jenny replied. "A degree in architecture is useless; you need your post-graduate studies and professional qualifications. My accident happened just before the end of my post-graduate course. I never qualified.

"I was in and out of the hospital for nearly six years. By the time all that had finished and there was a chance I could go back and qualify, all my credits had expired. I would have had to do the whole course again."

Dinner being finished, Anne said she was going to take her coffee through to the lounge and watch TV. Jenny said she would prefer to stay at the kitchen table and drink her coffee, the high-back kitchen chairs giving her more support for her back. I excused myself as I wanted to try and get some writing done.

An hour or so later, I decided I needed some tea. I put my head into the lounge and asked Anne if she would like anything. She asked for a hot chocolate. It was a bit of a surprise to find that neither Jenny nor the boys were with her. When I got to the kitchen, I found out why. Jenny and Joseph were deep in a discussion about architectural styles, whilst Johnny was listening in.

I made chocolate for Anne, Johnny and Joseph, tea for Jenny and me. While I was making the tea, Joseph informed me that he had spoken to his parents, and they had said he could stay as long as Anne and I would have him. I told him he could stay at least until we moved into the apartments.

Once I was back in the office, I did phone Bernard just to confirm what Joseph had said. While on the phone to him I also asked him about the lease and Trevor sharing the flat with Arthur. Bernard told me that there was a clause in the contract that said Arthur could not sub-let without my written permission. So, all that would have to be done would be for me to give Arthur a letter saying he could sublet a room to Trevor. However, Bernard thought a better way would be for Trevor and Arthur to be joint tenants. All I needed to do was add Trevor's name to the lease.

As soon as I was off the phone with Bernard, I opened the file he had sent me with the lease in it, added Trevor's name to the contract, then saved it before printing out copies. I intended to get the boys to sign it in the morning.

I had just got it all printed out and ready for signing when Johnny came in asking if he could have a word.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Well I can't go to the International Boatbuilding College till I'm eighteen, right?"

"Yes," I replied.

"So, what am I going to do till then? It's two years." he stated.

"That Johnny is up to you," I responded. "It's your decision. What do you want to do?"

"That's just it, Dad, I don't know."

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