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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 20

Once I had finished speaking with Jan Ritter, I went through to the kitchen with the intent of making a start on dinner, only to find that Anne had it under control, and Johnny was getting fed early.

"It's Friday; youth club," he informed me. "Me and Arthur are going down; we need to be there at six to set up."

"Is Trevor going with you?" I enquired.

"Don't think that would be a good idea," Johnny replied. "Can you imagine the mobs?"

"Are there enough young females in Dunford to constitute a mob?" I asked.

"Probably not, but no doubt they would come in by the busload if word got out that Trev was around."

My son had a point. I also noted the use of the diminutive form of Trevor's name. It seemed he had been fully accepted into the little group, at least by Johnny.

That evening over dinner, I mentioned that I was going to take Johnny clothes-shopping the next day.

"I've been meaning to do that," Anne stated. "He's only just got the minimum he needs, the stuff your ex sent is useless. Did you know there are six pairs of Abba-style flairs in there?"

"I suppose somebody told Beryl that with the release of Mama Mia they were coming back into fashion."

"Darling, those weren't even in fashion when Abba was wearing them; there was no way they could come back into fashion," Anne replied. Jenny just burst out laughing.

"If you are going clothes-shopping, could I come along?" Trevor asked.

"Yes," I answered, "but make sure you have a hoodie and sunglasses."

"I will, and I will keep them on."

"Don't you normally get given stuff by the major London outlets?" Jenny asked.

"Oh, I do," Trevor replied. "There are a few stores in London where I can be seen shopping and don't have to pay for anything. I just have to be seen shopping there and wearing their stuff. The problem is they actually pick the stuff I am going to have. Unfortunately, the stuff they pick is not very suitable for living around here."

"That reminds me," I said. "We need to get the lease signed."

"We've done it," Trevor stated. "We told you that yesterday. I'll bring it across to you later; all you need to do is counter-sign our copy."

Jenny looked at Trevor, then the penny dropped.

"You are moving here permanently?" she asked.

"Yes," Trevor replied. "I'm sharing the flat over the stables with Arthur. It will give me a good home base."

After dinner, Trevor asked me what time I was thinking of leaving in the morning to go shopping. I told him it would be sometime around nine. Once he had that information, Trevor left to carry on sorting out the flat. Apparently, both Arthur and he were now sleeping over there. He did, though, inform me that, besides beans on toast, they did not yet have the necessities to cook much.

Anne and Jenny went into the lounge to watch a drama on the TV. I stayed in the kitchen, cleaned up and listened to the radio. Just before eight, I made coffee for Anne and Jenny and tea for myself. Once I had delivered the coffee to the women and been reminded by Anne that she needed the Santa Fe in the afternoon to take Jenny home, I took my tea into the study and started to do some writing.

About ten past eleven, I heard the crunch of gravel under wheels as the van pulled onto the drive. Shortly afterwards, Johnny came in via the kitchen. He put his head around the study door to say goodnight. I told him he'd better come in, as I needed to speak to him.

"Trevor asked if he could join us when we go shopping in the morning," I informed him. "I said yes. I hope you don't mind."

"No, I was going to ask if he could come," Johnny responded. "He's got great clothes sense."

"OK. The other thing is we must leave around nine, and I need to be back by one, so we can't waste any time," I told him.

"Why do we have to be back by one?" he asked. "Was hoping I could have a lie-in in the morning."

"Anne is taking Jenny home tomorrow. The Santa Fe is easier for Jenny to get in and out than Anne's car," I commented.

"Wouldn't it be easier to leave the Santa Fe and use Anne's car? That way, we are not under any time pressure."

He had a point. That was an option I had not thought about. I told him I would speak with Anne about it. She was not keen on driving the Santa Fe, and I did not know if she planned on going shopping in Dunford in the morning. If she were, she would need her car.

"How did things go at the club?" I asked.

"Fine, though it was a bit weird, as well," Johnny said.

"In what way, weird?" I asked.

"Well, there were a couple of girls who latched onto Arthur and me. Not in a possessive sense. It was just that they always seemed to be around us. When we went to the burger bar after the club, they joined us and chatted with us. They even walked with us to the van; said they were going that way to their yacht."

"Their yacht?"

"Yes, they're off that big yacht in the harbour. The French one, Tante something, though the girls are English," Johnny said. "The one girl said it was her uncle's and that he was here on business for a bit, so they had come along to stay. Said it was a bit of a holiday."

"How old were they?"

"Don't know. They never said. To be at the youth club they should be under twenty, though I don't think anyone checks," Johnny stated. "Thinking about it, they could have been older. They acted young, like late teens, but there was something about them that seemed older. It was almost as if they were not quite what they appeared to be.

"They really upset John Henderson, though."

"How did they do that?"

"Well, I've told you how he and his gang hang around outside the club," Johnny said. I nodded, remembering that conversation. "When we came out of the club, Diana, that's the taller of the two girls, was with Arthur. John Henderson shouted that she should get herself a real man as Arthur was queer. She turned around and said if that was the case, she was sure his arse could tell her what size Arthur was. John Henderson turned a really deep red."

Johnny left to go to bed. I was just toying with the idea of sending Bernard an email about the girls at the club, asking him to pass the information onto Miss Jenkins. Then I remembered. That lady's name was Edith Jenkins, and the yacht in the harbour was named the Tante Edith. Aunt Edith.

Saturday morning, we used Anne's car, leaving Anne with the Santa Fe to take Jenny home and us without any time restriction for getting back. Not that getting back was a problem.

The first thing we did was find an optician's and sorted out a new set of reading glasses for Johnny. They gave him an eye test, and it turned out his prescription was simple, so they had a stock lens they could use. Johnny picked a plain frame, and they told us to come back in three hours to pick the glasses up.

If we had been in the Santa Fe, that would have caused problems as it would have been a bit tight timewise for getting back. As it was, we got back just after two.

We would have been back before two if we had not run into a problem at an upmarket store when Trevor went to pay. He had selected an armful of items and took them to the cashier, she rang them up, and Trevor handed over his charge card. A moment later, a security man arrived, and Trevor was asked to go to the office — at which point I stepped in to ask what the problem was.

"We suspect this young man is trying to pay with a stolen charge card," the cashier said.

"What makes you think it is stolen?" I asked.

"It's a high net-worth card; you need to be worth over a million to get one, and look at him." I suppose she had a point. Trevor was wearing a rather shabby hoodie that I think he had borrowed from Arthur — it looked like the one Arthur was wearing the day he got thrown out of home — the jeans he had been working in on the clock, and some well-worn trainers.

It took about half an hour to sort the problem out. Management had to be called, who, once they realised who Trevor was, were most apologetic. Trevor, however, was angry. He left with his card but without the items, which came to nearly two grand. Somebody had lost a nice sales commission. They were even more upset when they saw what he wrote on his fan site.

I must admit that seeing Trevor and Johnny shopping together was something of an experience. Johnny would select something and show it to Trevor. Nine times out of ten, Trevor would shake his head, then choose something that to me looked to be the same. Johnny would look at it, nod, and then purchase it.

When we got home there was a note from Anne on the kitchen table informing me that she would be back from Jenny's around four, that she had put dinner in the oven and that Arthur had been called out by a client and would probably be out all day, and would I let Trevor know? I told Trevor. He said that Arthur had expected the callout, which was why he had not come with us in the morning. One of his customers had been having intermittent network problems, and they had decided that if things had not improved by this morning, he would go in and do a reconfiguration over the weekend.

I checked the oven. There was a large casserole dish in there cooking on a low heat. Decided best thing to do was leave it.

Johnny had insisted that we got some Cornish pasties from the Real Cornish Pasty Shop. I slipped them into the microwave to reheat and sorted out something to drink, then we sat around the table and had a late lunch. In the middle of it, Trevor's mobile went, which was a pretty rare event as only a few people had that number. Even his parents did not have that one; they had his other mobile number, which he usually left behind and checked for messages a couple of times a day.

It turned out to be a call from Phil about filming, which was supposed to start in just over a week. He wanted to let Trevor know that they needed him at the studios on Monday.

"I thought you weren't starting filming till the week after next?" Johnny said.

"We're not, but there is a lot to set up first. No doubt they want me in for costume fittings, publicity shots, and there will probably be a couple of TV spots for me to do," Trevor said. "Best to get those things out of the way before filming starts."

"So, we won't see much of you after tomorrow," Johnny said.

"You won't see much of me after tonight," Trevor replied.

"Why? You don't start till Monday."

"Johnny, I will have to be at the studio at seven in the morning. Some days it will be even earlier. Phil's got me a suite at a country hotel about five miles from the studio. I will be going down there in the morning and moving in. I need to make sure that everything is set up right for me. For instance, can they do breakfast at five in the morning if required?"

With that, Trevor called Arthur to let him know about developments. He suggested to Arthur that they have dinner at the Crooked Man. I looked at Trevor questioningly as I had expected him to be here for dinner.

"Mike, you've got guests coming for dinner, and I know you and Johnny want to talk to them about Johnny's options. The last thing you need is Arthur and me discussing my studio life." He had a point there.

I asked him how things were going with Arthur and the client?

"Oh, fine," he stated. "Arthur's found the problem. It seems they need a new server, but for the time being, he has put in a temporary fix. He said he would be back about five."

Trevor went over to the flat. Johnny went up to his room to put his things away. I phoned Anne and checked what veg she wanted me to prepare for dinner, then set about getting them ready. Once the veg prep was finished, I went into my study to do some writing.

Anne arrived back shortly after four. She came through to the study to thank me for doing the veg prep and inform me that Steve would be arriving at seven.

"Oh, Peter's coming with him, he's off duty this weekend," she added. "Do you know if Trevor and Arthur will be joining us for dinner?"

"They won't be. Arthur's still out on the job and will not be back till five. Trevor's taking him to the Crooked Man for a meal. By the way, Trevor's leaving in the morning; they want him at the studio on Monday."

"So, it's dinner for seven then," she stated.

"Seven?" I asked.

"Yes, Mike. There are the three of us and the four of them that makes seven."

It took me a moment to realise I had forgotten about the kids.

"What about food for the kids?" I enquired.

"Don't worry, they'll go with what I am doing for us," she informed me, then left.

I got back to my writing, which went quite successfully. I had finished a nice block of it off by five-thirty, so decided to go and give Anne a hand. She directed me to a pile of large potatoes.

"Prick those, then put a few at a time in the microwave, ten minutes at full power," she said.

I followed her instructions. Some thirty minutes later, I had a pile of part-cooked jacket potatoes on a plate. Anne looked at them, then turned up the oven.

"I'm going to get washed and changed. Give the oven ten minutes to get up to temperature then pop those in on the top shelf."

She was back down in thirty minutes, and I was instructed to get washed and changed. I was also told to tell Johnny to get ready. I passed on the instruction.

When I got back down to the kitchen there was the smell of freshly baked bread permeating the room.

"You've made bread?" I said.

"Don't be stupid, Mike," Anne replied. "Not had enough time today. I got some par-cooked bread rolls from Tesco's. Just need to put them into the oven for twenty minutes to finish.

"You should be glad. Have you ever tasted any of the bread I've made?"

I had to admit that I hadn't.

"I may be able to cook most things, but I can assure you I will never be in the Great British Bake Off. When it comes to baking, I'm a disaster."

"So, if we want freshly baked bread, it's up to me."

"Yes, Mike, it is. Now, where's that son of yours? It's nearly seven."

I was just about to go and call him when Johnny came downstairs and through to the kitchen. It was a bit of a surprise. I had to do a doubletake to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.

I cannot say that Johnny had ever been dirty, except when he had come back from work. Nor had he been untidy. Yet there had always been something of a slovenly look about him. It was as if he could not be bothered about clothes.

Now there was a totally different Johnny. His dirty blond hair which usually hung lankly to his shoulders was now pulled tightly back and fastened into a man bun. More importantly, his now combed hair seemed to have a lustre about it.

Rather than a tee-shirt and loose-fitting jeans that hung from his pelvis, he now wore a tight, long-sleeved, black, polo-neck jumper. Black trousers, with a sharp crease, were held in place by a black, patent-leather belt, fastened with a plain, silver-metal buckle. A pair of black patent shoes finished off the outfit. It was elegant, understated and awe-inspiring.

For the first time, I looked at my son and saw an impressive young man, a young man who would undoubtedly be a presence if he walked into a room. He may not have had Trevor's good looks, but he was handsome in a way Trevor never could be.

"Well?" he asked.

"You look great," I replied. "Why haven't you dressed up before?"

"For a start, I only had the stuff mother got me to dress up in, and I would not be seen dead in most of that stuff. The wearable stuff is only suitable to some London clubs, not the sort of stuff to wear around here. Don't know what I'm going to do with all of it. There is no way I'd wear it, and nobody in their right minds would buy it."

"Give it to the Amateur Dramatics Society, they are always after stuff for their wardrobe," Anne suggested.

Just then, the doorbell rang. Johnny went to answer it. A couple of minutes later, he came back into the kitchen with a large bearded man.

"Peter, may I introduce my father, Michael Carlton, and you already know my step-mother," Johnny said. "Dad, this is Doctor Peter Lovell, Steve's partner." We shook hands.

"Where's Steve?" I asked.

"Looking after the four year old," Peter replied. "Tommy had an urgent need of the bathroom, and Susan, that's the five year old, was too shy to come through without her uncle."

I offered Peter a drink. He informed me that as he was not working and not on call and Steve was the designated driver; he would love a drink. If possible, he would like a single malt.

Peter's voice had a slight Scottish burr to it, so I was careful not to offer ice with the single malt. I did ask if he would like some water as we did have some Highland Spring in the fridge. He declined the offer, informing me that if you are adding water to a single malt, the water should be at room temperature so as not to block the aromatics in the single malt. If you add ice or chilled water, you kill half the aromas and as a result, lose some of the complexity in the taste.

Steve came through to the kitchen with two children, one holding each hand. Anne immediately went over to them and hugged the children, then brought them over to where I was standing by the AGA.

"Mike, this is Thomas, who we call Tommy," she said. "This young lady is Susan. Now, Tommy and Susan, this is my new husband, so he is now your Uncle Michael."

"Will you take us horse riding?" Tommy asked. "My friend Danny has a new uncle, and he is always taking Danny horse riding."

"Do you want to go horse riding?" I asked.

Tommy thought about it a bit then shook his head. "Not really. Danny says they are big and you fall off them. That's how he broke his arm."

All the adults, including Johnny, laughed. Tommy looked puzzled.

"Right," Anne announced. "Johnny, why don't you take Tommy and Susan into the Library for a bit. Dinner will be in half an hour, so that should give you time to play one of your video games. Mike, you can show Steve round the place. I know he has always wanted to see inside here. Peter, you can stay here and chat with me or join the tour."

"I'll stay with the food." Peter laughed.

I took Steve on the grand tour, or as much of a grand tour as I could manage in half an hour. He was particularly interested in the woodwork in the place, especially the carved balustrades for the main staircase. Steve told me that some years ago when he had been working at a local carpentry firm, they had made two copies of the carved balustrade to replace some that had been damaged. Although he had worked on the carving, he had never seen where they were installed.

Dinner was plain and rustic. A thick vegetable soup served with warm bread rolls was followed by beef stewed in red wine with mushrooms, onions and root veg, served with jacket-baked potatoes. Dessert was ice cream.

During dinner, Johnny asked Peter how long Steve and he had been together.

"It's over twenty years; we met at university," Peter stated.

"Which one?" I asked.

"Cambridge," Peter replied. I must have looked surprised.

Steve interrupted. "I was working there — in the boat shed. Peter was in the reserve boat." I must still have looked puzzled.

"There are two teams of rowers in training for the Boat Race," Peter said. "There is the main boat; that is the one that will actually take part in the boat race itself. Then there is a reserve boat. That is made up of rowers who are good enough to be in the main boat but haven't quite made it, usually because there is a better rower available for the main boat.

"If somebody is off form, sick or injured in the main boat, they will be replaced by their counterpart in the reserve boat. The Cambridge reserve boat is called Goldie, after John Goldie, who was president of the rowing club in the 19th century. The Oxford reserve boat is called Isis, after the river as the Thames is known there. There is an Isis-Goldie race ahead of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race.

"Steve was working in the boat sheds — not sure quite what he was doing — but I got to know him. Asked him out for a drink, and, well, one thing led to another, and we have been together ever since.

"Wasn't very fair on Steve the first few years as he had to follow me round the country as I took training positions at various hospitals. I messed up his plans for setting up a boatyard. Then I got a consultant's position at St John's, so we moved back here. A few months after we moved back, he got the job at the Hamden yard. Then, four years ago we got these two, so I think our days of moving around the country are ended."

"They better bloody be," Steve stated. "Anyway, much as I enjoy Anne's cooking, I suspect there is an ulterior motive to the invitation to this meal."

"Yes, there is," I replied. "I wanted to get some advice about Johnny's options for the next two years."

"And before you start discussing them," Anne inserted, "you can finish dinner. Then I'll look after the kids while you men go into the study and finish off what is left of the wine."

Which is what we did. For the rest of the meal, we chatted about generalities — about what Tommy and Susan liked and how they were getting on at school. We also talked about Peter's work at the hospital.

Dinner over, Steve, Johnny and I moved into the study. Peter excused himself and stayed with Anne and the kids. I offered Steve some red wine, but he refused.

"I've had one glass with dinner, and that's the limit, given that I am driving," he informed me. Johnny, however, did take a glass of wine.

"Right, you've wined me and dined me, so what do you want from me?" Steve asked.

"I can't start at the International Boatbuilding School until I am eighteen, so I have two years to fill," Johnny said. "I am trying to work out what my options are, what I should be doing in those two years if I want to design and build yachts."

"First, is it yachts you are interested in or boatbuilding generally?" Steve asked.

"Well, I like all boats," Johnny replied. "I love yachts, though, and would like to design and build them."

"I think," Steve stated, "you have answered your question. You need to look at something specific on yachts. I know Southampton Solent University does a B.Eng. in yacht design, so you need to look at something like that."

That concerned me as I knew how Johnny felt about going to university. It was the thing that had caused the final situation to develop between him and his mother. Johnny must have sensed what I was thinking.

"It's OK, Dad. It's not law, and nobody is pushing me to do it. The question is, now I've dropped out of school, how do I get into university, specifically onto a yacht-design course?"

"Take a bit longer over it," Steve suggested. "You can go back to college part time and get a couple of A-levels. If you are going for a B.Eng., you really need maths and physics. Then go and do your boat-building course. That's a City and Guilds Level Three if I remember correctly, so it carries forty UCAS points. That, together with a couple of good A-levels, should give you enough to get into university.

"If you want to, you can carry on working part time for me. Can't offer you much in the off-season, but reckon we can find you ten to fifteen hours a week, especially with Martin leaving."

"Martin's leaving?" asked Johnny.

"Yes, the end of September. He's got his visa for Oz, so off to the warmer weather. Plenty of work out there for skilled boat builders."

We talked for about another twenty minutes about things. In the end, it was agreed that Johnny would continue to work in the yard part time and do a two-year, A-level course at a local college. Johnny expressed the opinion he could probably do A-level French in a year. That would mean he could get three A-levels in and still work part time. I expressed surprise as I did not know Johnny spoke French that well.

"Dad, the bitch used to dump me with her weird French friends most of the summer, and we always spent Christmas in France. I've been speaking French for at least three months of the year for as long as I can remember. I probably speak better French than English." I looked at him questioningly. "The parents of the family I stayed with in France were both professors of French at the university. They were always correcting my French."

We returned to the kitchen to join Anne, Peter and the kids, who were still sitting around the now-cleared table. It turned out Anne and Peter were playing some board game with Tommy and Susan, and they were getting thoroughly beaten. Peter stated that they had to be thinking of moving on as it was close to the time for the kids to get to bed. Just then, Trevor came in.

Susan screamed when she recognised him. It became a case of autographs, having her photo taken with him and talking about all his films she had seen.

"Is he someone special?" Tommy asked.

"No," Johnny replied. "He's just a friend." Susan gave Johnny a look that could have killed.

"Sorry," Trevor said once Peter, Steve and kids had left. "I just came over to let you know I am off to London tonight. Mum phoned, Dad's in hospital."

"What?" I exclaimed.

"Dad's in hospital," Trevor repeated. "Mam phoned me just before I came over. She was having dinner with Dad to discuss the divorce. They were discussing which properties they were going to sell off and split the money when Dad started to have chest pains. They took him to UCLH A&E. Mam's there with him now."

"You better get on your way," Anne said. "If you need anything, let us know."

"Thanks," Trevor replied and left. A few minutes later, we heard the sound of his MX-5 as he went past the side of the building and onto the drive.

"I hope Bob's alright," Anne stated.

"So, do I," I replied. "I've just banked everything on Bob and his new agency."

"You've what?"

I told her about Hartmann's being taken over and how I had put in my notice of termination of representation so I could be with Bob's new agency.

"So that's why Jan Ritter was calling you all week, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Well, you could have told me," she stated. "I would have told the idiot to get lost."

I realised then I really ought to learn to communicate more with Anne. It is just that for the last fifteen years I have not been married, so it has not been an issue.

Joseph phoned first thing Sunday morning to say there was a problem with the trains. There was no connection to Southminster due to engineering works over the weekend. He would get as far as he could on the train but then would have to take the bus. I suggested getting the bus to Maldon rather than Southminster. He agreed, but it would not get there till after two. I told him to call when he was on the bus to Maldon, and I would drive in to pick him up.

Johnny did not surface till well past eleven, and even then he looked as if he could have done with a couple more hours' sleep. It turned out he had been up till gone three searching online for local colleges to do his A-levels. He had got a shortlist of three and had printed out their prospectuses. We sat at the kitchen table going over them while Johnny tried to get back to the land of the living with an ample supply of coffee. There was not much to choose between them, but in the end, Johnny decided on Plume College in Maldon. The main factor in his decision was the fact that a couple of his friends from the youth club went there. We would, though, have to wait for his GCSE results before he could enrol for A-levels. I did suggest he might like to talk to somebody at the college about his options first.

One thing was clear. If Johnny was going to be going to college, he needed some motorised transport, which meant the moped. It was a bit too far to cycle, and I did not think it was feasible to rely on the bus service, such as it was. That only left Anne and me running a chauffeur service to take him in and pick him up — or a moped. Much as I disliked the idea of him on a moped, it did make sense, so I told him he'd better get one.

That, of course, raised the question of money. I had promised Johnny that we would talk about it today, but as things had turned out, I had not thought it a good idea to invite Bernard over.

"Sorry, Johnny, I know I said I would discuss things with you, but other things have not worked out like I expected," I told him. "I could go through things with you, but to be honest, half what I would have to say would not make sense to you. It does not make sense to me. That's why I wanted Bernard over to explain things. However, I did not think it would be a good idea to invite him up this weekend."

"I suppose that's because of Joseph."

"Has he said anything?"

"No, but I know he is not happy at home," Johnny stated. "It seems there are some problems with Micah."

"Look, Johnny, for now, just accept that money is not going to be a problem for you. I will get Bernard up to explain things as soon as things settle down, but you may have to wait a while."

"That's fine, Dad. Just so long as somebody tells me what's going on at some time."

I promised him I would.

Trevor phoned just before lunch on Sunday to say that his father was doing fine. Apparently, it was not a heart attack, but there were some heart problems and that he would be discharged probably on Monday after he had seen the consultant. He was, though, under strict instructions to take a rest. I asked him where his father would be staying when discharged. He was not sure but said he suspected it would be with his mother.

Arthur joined us for lunch and brought the news that he had got the clock cleaned. All he had to do now was replace the ropes for the weights, and he hoped it would be working. I asked him where he had to get the rope from; he told me it was fairly standard rope, nothing special, and that he could get some from any good chandler. Johnny told him to pop down to the yard in the morning, and he would sort him some out.

Just after one, Joseph called to say he was waiting for the Maldon bus and it was due in at Maldon at two-twenty. I told him somebody would be there to pick him up. Anne said she would as she wanted to do some shopping. Johnny said he would give Arthur a hand in un-roping the weights; that would give him a good idea of what rope to sort out in the morning.

I left them all to it and went to my study to check my emails and do some writing. There was an email from Bernard asking me to call him when I was free. From that, I gathered he meant no one around to listen in. As there was not anyone around, I called him.

"Thanks for calling, Mike," Bernard said. "How's Joseph?"

"Don't know," I responded. "He seemed fine when I spoke to him. That was about fifteen minutes ago, but he has not got here yet."

"Oh, I thought the train got in about eleven," Bernard stated.

"There is no train to Southminster — engineering works. He is on the bus to Maldon; Anne's just gone to pick him up."

"Well, at least he's on his way. I was a bit worried after last night."

"What happened last night?" I asked.

"Joseph whacked Micah with a beauty," Bernard informed me. "Got him with a right hook right on the side of the face and put Micah on the floor. Micah's got a swollen nose and a real shiner this morning. Have to say he bloody deserved it."

"What had he been up to?"

"He spent the whole of Shabbat teasing Joseph about not having a girlfriend," Bernard told me. "Then he asked if he was staying with you because he had a girl up there. Joseph told him to 'fucking shut up and mind his own business'. With that, he went to leave the room, but Micah walked up behind him and asked if it was a boyfriend, then. Joseph just turned and clobbered him one. Must say I almost applauded. If it had not been for the look Debora gave me, I probably would have.

"Got up this morning to find a note in the kitchen that he was on his way back to Dunford and he was not coming back for Shabbat while Micah was at home. Debora is distraught."

"I bet she is," I replied. "How's Micah?"

"Nothing serious other than a bad case of wounded pride," Bernard responded. "He's the one who's done eight years' amateur boxing and spends most of his time in the gym pushing weights. Yet it is his fifteen-year-old brother who puts him on the floor. How he will explain that down at the boxing club, I don't know."

"Will he have to?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Bernard informed me. "Bethany was there and saw it all. She's told Micah not to bother calling her until he gets some sense. Her younger brother trains at the same boxing club as Micah. You can be certain it will be all round the club by the next training session."

"You don't seem to have much sympathy for him," I commented.

"I don't, the boy's an idiot," Bernard stated. "I know what he is trying to do, but he is going about it in the wrong way. Though it would make life easier all-round if Joseph would just come out and say he is gay."

"You could just ask him."

"And risk having him lie to me? You must be joking. The first rule of law: never ask a question unless you are certain you know what the answer will be."

I promised to let him know if there were any problems with Joseph, then rang off and got back to my writing. At least, I attempted to get back to writing. For some reason, my enthusiasm for it had dried up. After my third attempt to write the same sentence, I gave up.

Anne called me on my mobile to let me know that she had picked up Joseph. She then asked if I fancied salmon for dinner. As we had nothing planned, I said yes. Then I wandered over to the stables to see how the boys were getting on with weights. I walked in through the door below the clock tower. Johnny was standing there with piles of rope around his feet.

"Is all this from the clock?" I asked.

"Yes, there's about fifty metres of it," Johnny replied.

"Why so much?" The clock was only about ten metres above us. Why it would need fifty metres of rope I could not fathom.

"You'd better ask Arthur," Johnny said.

"Ask me what?" Arthur's voice sounded from above.

"About why we have so much rope," Johnny replied. "Dad's here. Do you want to come down and explain. There was silence for a moment, then the sound of Arthur coming down the stairs.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Clayton," he said as he got to the bottom of the stairs.

"Arthur, I think it might be a bit easier if you called me Mike," I stated. I had told him to before, but he did not seem to take note.

"Oh, OK. Mike, the clock is driven by a power or drive-train drum around which the rope is wound. As the rope is pulled off the drum, it causes the drum to turn." I nodded that I could understand. Arthur continued. "To run the clock for a week, you need to pull off about fifty metres of rope. However, the drop for the weights here is just over ten metres. What they did here was to use a five-wheel, double-pulley system, so that for every metre the weight dropped, five metres were pulled off the drum."

"So, you are going to have to get fifty metres of rope to get it going," I stated.

"No," Arthur replied. "We need fifty metres for the clock and the same again for the chime drive. To be safe we really should put on a bit more, so I think one-twenty metres should do it."

"The thing is, we need something better than this," Johnny stated, pointing to the rope at his feet.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked.

"It a nylon-based climbing rope," Johnny informed me. "Somebody probably used it as a cheap alternative when they were refurbishing the clock. The problem is that it is designed to stretch under tension. That is necessary so that it does not break when it comes under strain when a climber falls. Unfortunately, it means that it is not very good for uses where you need constant and predictable behaviour under tension."

"You mean like a clock?" I said.

"Yes," Johnny replied. "For a clock, you need a constant force applied to the drive train. So, for the weights, you need to have something that does not stretch under tension. That's why many clocks use a chain rather than rope for the weights. Where they do use rope, they usually use one that does not stretch much, such as wire rope."

"A couple of the locals who I've spoken to say the clock was always running slow when it was working," Arthur added. "If we want this to run fairly accurately, we will need to put wire rope in. From some bits, we've found, we think it originally used wire rope."

I told Arthur to go ahead and sort out getting some suitable wire rope; just had to hope it was not too expensive. It did occur to me that Johnny might be able to get it from the chandler at the yard. When I asked about that, he informed me that the wire rope they carried was not suitable for this use.

Not being able to do anything to help, I left the boys to get on with whatever they were doing and then took a stroll around the place. I know we had been at the Priory for over two months, but I had never really looked around the place beyond a casual glance as we walked past. Now I made a point of looking at things carefully. There were a lot more small outbuildings than I had initially realised. What I had assumed was one building turned out to be four or five small units joined together. A couple of them turned up to be surprising finds. What I had presumed were a set of storage sheds behind the stable building turned out to be an old forge, with a lot of the tools and equipment sitting there rusting.

I was walking back towards the house when I saw Matt getting out of his car. This surprised me as he usually would be at the Crown and Anchor on a Sunday afternoon having Sunday lunch.

"What brings you here on a Sunday?" I asked as I walked up to join him.

"Took the wife and daughter to the airport yesterday," Matt replied. "This was on my list of jobs to get done yesterday, but I was otherwise engaged. Want to get it out of the way before the lads come in tomorrow."

"I thought you were divorced?" I said.

"I am, but Carol and I are still on good terms. We are better friends than we ever were spouses. She had booked a taxi to take her and Helen to Stanstead. They are spending three weeks in Spain. Helen's got her Spanish A-level this coming school year, and they thought some total immersion would be good for her.

"Taxi never turned up, and they could not get another, so asked me to run them over. Didn't mind and was able to have a good chat with Helen. It did, though, eat up most of the day, and I had promised the guys to have a snagging list done for them for tomorrow."

I had to get Matt to explain what a snagging list was. Basically, you walk around a building that is about to be handed over and make a list of all the little things which are not right. The next hour and a quarter were quite an education. Matt took me on an inspection tour of the apartments and pointed out some little details that I would probably have missed. For a start, there was no way I would have noticed that the kitchen cabinet door was a couple of mil, out of line. Matt said the adjustment screw on the spring hinge needed tightening. I also could not see anything wrong with the light switch in the bedroom; it looked the same as all the others. Matt, though, said it was the wrong switch, so that had to be changed.

By the time he had finished, Matt had ten A4 pages of items that had to be dealt with. I looked at it in horror, wondering how long it was going to take to put right. Matt assured me that it was not that bad. Most of the things only needed a quick adjustment or cleaned up, like removing paint from the switch surround. He said at the most it would take two days.

Seeing how Matt had missed his lunch at the Crown and Anchor, I invited him to join us for dinner, but he declined, saying he had a couple of other jobs to check up on. I did, though, ask him to come up sometime next week and have a look at the barn, if possible with Doctor Portage present, to give me some ideas about what could be done with it. I was reasonably sure that it was going to be slapped with a Grade One listing, and if I had to preserve it, I needed to find a way to make it work for me.

As I walked Matt back to his car, Anne drove in. She wanted to know why Matt was there? Matt told her about having to take his ex-wife to the airport.

"I heard Mulligan's were in trouble," Anne stated. Mulligan's were the local taxi firm. "It must have been worse than I thought."

Joseph was busy unloading the car. I went to give him a hand, leaving Matt and Anne to chat. They were old friends from her having been the barmaid at the Crown and Anchor. We had just about got all the bags out of the back of the car and the boot when Matt got into his car and drove off.

Anne asked me to pass her the bags from Tesco's and a sizeable plastic-wrapped parcel, then told me to leave the rest in the hall; she would sort them out later.

As we moved the bags into the hall, I asked Joseph how things were going.

"OK," he replied.

"I heard you clobbered your brother," I stated.

"He deserved it."

"Probably," I agreed. "Though I am not sure that hitting him was the best way to resolve the difficulty."

"Maybe not." Joseph smiled. "It was a bloody good feeling though. I gather Dad has spoken to you?"

"Yes, he has," I answered. "He's worried you know. You could just tell them that you're gay."

"And have Micah ragging me about it all the time? No thanks."

I decided it was probably best to leave things there for the time being, so changed the subject by telling Joseph that, as Trevor had now moved to the flat, he could have what had been Trevor's room. He no longer had to share with Johnny. There as a hint of disappointment in Joseph's face. I suspected he liked sharing with Johnny.

Anne had got a sizeable whole salmon for dinner. When I realised how large it was, I called Arthur and suggested he should join us for the meal. Otherwise, we were likely to be eating salmon in various forms for the next week. I asked Anne what on earth had possessed her to buy the fish.

"The last one they had. The store was closing, and it had to go; got it for less than half price," she replied. "Anyway, I like salmon."

With that comment, she dug out a large, copper fish pan from the depths of the kitchen cupboard. I was sure that I had never owned a fish pan, so it must have come from Anne's, a fact she confirmed when I mentioned it.

Dinner was delicious but straightforward: poached salmon, with salad, potatoes, garden peas, and parsley sauce. I think everybody had second helpings, so there was not that much salmon left. Anne said she would freeze what was left for use in a fish pie sometime.

Monday morning was a bit hectic. Steve called just gone seven asking to speak to Johnny. Johnny was due at the yard at nine-thirty, but Steve was asking if he could get in for eight. Some idiot had managed to stave in the side of his yacht on a mud bank, which took some doing. As soon as Johnny could get in, Steve and Martin were off to do a temporary patch and then get the boat back to the yard. The problem was the tide was going out, and they had to do a patch whilst it was low tide so that they could re-float her on the incoming tide. That gave them a very narrow window, and they needed somebody to cover the yard. Hence, the call for Johnny.

Johnny grabbed a quick shower and an even faster breakfast. By half-seven he was off on his bike. I was reasonably sure that he would be at the yard before eight.

Anne was also in a rush. She had an interview at the college for her access course. To complicate matters, her car would not start. I told her to take the Santa Fe, which she did.

I had just finished cleaning up the breakfast things when the phone went. It was the Chris Dalman, the editor of a leading science magazine. After a couple of general comments, he informed me they had a significant project on and one of their contributors had dropped out. Could I step in and take their place? At that moment the doorbell went. I had to put Chris on hold while I answered the door. It was Sarah Colman. I apologised to her, said I was on the phone and asked Joseph to show her around the property, promising I would have coffee and biscuits for them when they got back. I then went back to deal with the call from Chris.

"So, what is this project, and who has dropped out?" I asked.

"It's our hundredth anniversary next July," Chris informed me. "We have asked ten science writers to write a piece each. The theme for each piece is a single decade from that hundred years and what the scientific developments were in that decade and their impact. Tom France took the nineteen fifties. He had a stroke on Thursday, and there is no way he is going to be up to writing the piece. I asked a couple of the other authors on the project if they knew anyone they thought could step in, and Mark Dowland suggested you.

"To be honest, Mike, I rather kicked myself for not thinking of you before. You know the magazine, you've written for us so are au fait with the house style, and you are respected. I should probably have had you in our first-ten selected. It's just you have not done much with us in the last couple of years, so you had slipped my mind."

Well, he was right about not writing for them for a bit. It had been a good three, more like four, years since I had done anything for them. My last piece being a six-hundred worder on cold-water coral.

"What's the word count, and when's the deadline?"

"Four to five thousand words; the fee is five grand; the deadline is the end of the year," Chris stated. "There is, though, one snag."

"What's that?" I asked.

"The first editorial meeting is set for ten-thirty tomorrow," he stated. "Each of the writers is going to be there, and the idea is to go through their list of breakthroughs. We want to make sure we do not get essentially the same type of breakthroughs being repeated in each decade."

"So, you want me to come up with a list of ten breakthroughs from the nineteen-fifties and have them ready for a meeting at ten-thirty in the morning?"

"Can make it a bit easier for you," Chris stated. "I've got Tom's list, and I could email it to you if you will do the job."

"OK, Chris," I told him. "I will do it; email me the list and the contract. I will see you in the morning. You'd better be putting on a good lunch."

"Don't worry," Chris replied. "We will."

I put the phone down and went through to the kitchen to sort out some coffee and biscuits. The coffee had just finished filtering when Joseph and Sarah Colman came in via the back door.

"So, did Joseph give you the tour?" I asked.

"Yes, Mr. Clayton," she replied. "I am not sure I have seen everything I need to see, but I have seen all the main sights."

"First, please call me Mike," I told her. "Whenever somebody says Mr. Clayton I am tempted to look round for my brother. He is the one with the money."

"I will try to remember that," she answered.

"So, where do you start?" I asked.

"Well, I have to do three things. The first is to make an accurate map of the whole site. We need one that is accurate to within half a centimetre. The county maps and the deed maps can be off by up to half a metre, which can create problems with Stage Two."

"What's Stage Two?"

"Now, that is the fun part," she replied. "I will use a laser scanner to create a three-dimensional model of the whole site. When that is finished, we will have a wireframe model on the computer of the site that we can move through virtually. That will help us understand how all the bits fit together."

"What is Stage Three?" Joseph asked.

"We then have to walk the whole site and carefully note anything of interest, like the change in the brickwork you showed me in the wall of the outbuilding behind the stables. All that information has to be added to the 3-D model."

"What about the brickwork?" I asked Joseph.

"The bricks on the sidewalls and the front are machine-made Victorian. However, the bricks of the back wall are handmade, probably Tudor, but they could be earlier."

I looked at Sarah.

"He's right," she said. "All that row of buildings have a back wall of handmade bricks. They are probably Tudor, though they could be late Plantagenet; it can be difficult to tell, and I am not an expert on bricks."

"What are you an expert on?" I asked.

"Excrement," Sarah replied. "It is surprising how much information you can get from the remains of people's excrement at historic sites."

For the next ten minutes, Sarah proceeded to give both of us more information about ancient excrement than we probably wanted to know. One thing was certain; she was an expert on it. It was, though, not a subject I wanted to explore in any depth, so I changed the subject.

"What are you going to be doing today?" I asked.

"Initially I am going to set up a base point, then get key measurements from that point," she informed me. "Joseph says that your son will be here to help this afternoon."

"Yes, he is working at the boatyard till about twelve-thirty so should be home sometime after one."

"In that case, I will establish a baseline this morning, and we can start the site survey this afternoon," Sarah answered. "It will be easier with two people to assist me. First, though, I need to get my survey kit out of the car."

I probably should have offered to help but thought she had enough assistance with Joseph; he was undoubtedly keen enough. What was clear was that he seemed to have a real interest in buildings. To be honest, even if I had gone inside the barn, I would not have known that the barn was a cruck barn. Also, I would have no idea how to tell a Tudor brick from a Victorian brick.

There is no exact equivalent in Judaism to the Christian concept of a godfather. However, if there had been, I am sure I would have been it for both Joseph and Micah. So much so that I often referred to myself as their godfather, even Bernard had referred to me as their godfather. As such, I felt I really should have a chat with Joseph about his career choices. That was somewhere where I could probably have some positive input. Was not sure I could with regards to his family.

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