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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 21

Once back in my study, I phoned Bernard. Luckily, he was in his office and not with a client. His secretary put me through to him.

"I hope you are not phoning to say that my son has put someone else on the floor," he quipped as he answered the phone.

"No, at the moment your son is helping a young lady lay out a baseline," I responded. "He spent an hour this morning impressing her with his knowledge of building materials."

"He did what?"

"He identified that the back wall of a series of outbuildings consisted of handmade Tudor bricks and the rest of the buildings were built with Victorian machine-made bricks," I answered.

"Well, I'll be damned," Bernard stated.

"According to some of the locals around here, you, as a Jew, already are," I replied. "The rest of the population don't give a damn about your religion, but they do believe that solicitors should be condemned to the deepest circle of hell."

"I believe we are condemned to the fourth ditch of the eighth circle, according to Dante," Bernard replied.

"When did you read Dante?"

"When you were reading the Talmud," Bernard replied. "You know, Aunt Ruth always said you should be a rabbi."

"A non-Jewish, bacon-eating rabbi?" I asked.

"With some of the ones we've got, that might be a definite improvement, Mike. I doubt, though, you've phoned to discuss such matters. So, what can I do for you if it is not to come and collect my son?"

"When can you come and talk to Johnny about the trust?" I asked. "I am not sure what to tell him about it, and he is getting worried about money and college."

"I think it might be a good idea for the family to come up to the boat for a couple of days. Will talk to Debora this evening. One way or another, I will be up there at the weekend," Bernard promised.

"Thanks," I replied.

With that dealt with, I got down to doing some writing. I do have to earn a living, and not all technical writing pays a pound a word. To be honest, with a lot of it I'm lucky to get ten pence a word. Fortunately, I can often sell the same basic article in slightly different forms several times.

Arthur came over from the flat just gone ten to say he was going out to a client and asked me to deal with any calls that might come in using the secondary phone.

Just after eleven, Johnny phoned. It seemed that the recovery of the boat was turning out to be a bit more complicated than expected, so he was going to have to cover the yard until about two. I went out to Sarah and Joseph to let them know. While out there, I asked Sarah if she would like to join us for lunch. She declined, saying she was meeting a friend in Dunford for lunch. Given that Johnny was going to be late back, she would probably take a long lunch.

Anne was not back from her interview at the college, so there was just Joseph and me for lunch. That did give me a chance to talk to him. He came into the kitchen just before one. I heard Sarah's car pull away on the drive.

"How's it going?" I asked as I started to make some Welsh Rabbit for us.

"Good," Joseph replied. "We got a primary baseline set up. Sarah explained that we needed to set up a couple of secondaries. It looks as if it will take us most of the week to map the site in the detail that she wants."

"So, you're going to be here for at least the rest of the week," I stated.

"Actually, Uncle Mike, I was hoping to be here all summer," he said gravely. "School starts the first Wednesday in September. I was hoping I could stay here until then. You did say—"

"I know what I said, Joseph," I interrupted. "If you want to stay till school goes back, you can. It may not be a good idea, but it is your decision. I was just kidding you when I implied you being here for the rest of the week would be a problem.

"However, I have to tell you that your parents are coming up at the weekend. Don't know the details yet."

"Fuck!" Joseph exclaimed. "I suppose Mam's been nagging Dad to come and sort me out."

"Well, she probably has, but that's not the reason they're coming. At least, it's not the reason your father is coming."

"So, why's he coming?" Joseph asked. "I know he is not fond of the yacht, though Micah loves it."

"He's coming to speak with Johnny about Johnny's plans for the future. Johnny is worried about money and college. He should not be — that has all been sorted — but it is a bit complicated, and your father can explain it better than I can."

"Is it like Grandpa's trust?" he asked.

"Sorry, I don't know anything about that," I told him.

"Well Grandpa LeBrun put a whole pile of shares in the business into a trust fund for his grandchildren," Joseph informed me. I nodded. It was just the sort of thing that old Izsak would do. "When the takeover went through, the trust got very rich, but we can't touch that money, only the income that comes off it and only for certain things."

"Yes, that sounds about right," I told him. Then I asked him to put some toast under the grill as I finished grating the cheese into the egg-and-cream mix.

"I'll probably go out when they're here," he stated. "Sarah has told me of some interesting buildings that I can go and look at; they are in cycling distance."

"You seem very interested in buildings."

"I am," Joseph replied, pulling the grill pan from under the heat and turning the bread before popping it back. "I love looking at them and reading about them. There is a lot of history in a building. It can tell you how people used to live and work."

"Yet you want to be a barber. Why don't you do something with buildings? You could always be an architect."

"Can't draw well enough," Joseph informed me, there was a hint of frustration in his voice.

"I'm not sure that would be a problem," I stated. "For a start, most of it is technical drawing. Anyway, you can be taught to draw."

"Our art teacher says that being able to draw is a talent, one I haven't got," he stated. He pulled the grill pan out and checked the toast, turned it over and replaced the pan under the grill.

"I'm not sure that's right. Some people have an inherent talent for drawing and can draw really well," I told him. "Others have to be taught. They will probably never be as good at drawing as those who have the inherent talent, but they can be taught to draw competently. I think you might need a new art teacher."

"That would be good," Joseph stated. "Though I would prefer a new school."

That statement surprised me. Joseph was going to one of the better independent schools in London and was, I understood, doing well.

The egg, cream and cheese mix in the pan was just coming to the simmer and starting to thicken. I asked Joseph to get the toast ready for coating. He pulled the grill pan out, placed the toast on the side then put a layer of aluminium foil over the pan, replacing the toast on the foil. I then poured the egg-and-cheese mixture over the toast, which Joseph now returned under the grill to brown.

"So, what's wrong with your school?" I enquired.

"I'm not Micah," Joseph answered.

"I know you're not Micah, but what has that got to do with it?"

"Everybody expects me to be another Micah, to do what he did, to be as good as he was. He was Captain of Football, so they expect me to play and be as good as Micah. I hate football. I can think of much better ball games to play with twenty-one other boys than kicking a ball around in the mud."

I couldn't help but laugh at that comment. Joseph looked at me. For a moment, I thought I had upset him, then he burst out laughing. It took him a couple of minutes to get under control. A thin wisp of smoke snaked round from under the grill. I jabbed my finger in its direction. Joseph looked around at it then snatched the grill pan from under the grill. The topping had only just started to catch.

"Sorry, Uncle Mike," he said, putting the grill pan down on the countertop. I took a serving slicer and lifted the Welsh Rabbits off the foil and onto awaiting plates, then put the plates on the table.

"It's OK," I informed him. "The Rabbit has only just started to catch; it will give it more flavour." I put a bottle of Worcester sauce on the table, then added knives and forks. Joseph sat down opposite me as I sat at the table.

"So, they expect you to be another Micah, do they?" I had a feeling that this might explain a lot.

"Yes," Joseph replied. "Everybody expects me to be another Micah. Micah was good at English, so I am expected to be good at English; the same with Spanish and French. The fact that I can beat Micah hands down when it comes to maths, physics, geography or any of another half-dozen subjects is not important; I just get compared with Micah in those where I do not do as well as he did."

"Is that why you want to leave to be a barber?" I enquired.

"In part, yes."

"So, do you want to be a barber?"

"I wouldn't mind, though there is not much chance I will," Joseph answered.

"Why won't you?"

"Uncle Mike, you can only really make money as a barber if you have your own place at a good location. Sol's place is perfect. The problem is that when Sol dies, his family will sell it off immediately. They've been nagging him to sell it for years. The only reason Sol keeps it going is to annoy them."

"So why have you been telling your parents you want to become a barber?"

"To get them to understand that I am leaving school at the end of next year," Joseph informed me. "I could enrol at the college and do a couple of A-levels along with my City and Guilds. At least I would not be at that school."

"So, working at Sol's was just an act," I observed.

"Not really. I like working for Sol. It gives me something to do, and I earn money, my own money, not an allowance from Dad. The big thing is, I learn a lot. Sol's family emigrated from Czechoslovakia in nineteen thirty-five. Sol was only a kid, but his father was a leading Czech architect. Sol is always talking about buildings and architecture; it is good to listen to."

"I'm surprised Sol did not become an architect," I stated.

"He intended to, but things did not work out. Sol's grandfather was English so that the family could claim British citizenship under the rules at that time. It did, though, mean that when Sol was eighteen, he got called up for National Service. He was put to work as a barber in the Air Force.

"Just before he got out, his father died. That left Sol as the eldest, having to support his mother and three siblings, so he took what work he could when he got out. Abe Kaufman, Sonny Kaufman's uncle, had the shop then. He let Sol have a chair. Abe had no sons, and none of his nephews was interested in becoming barbers."

"I should think not," I interjected. "Abe Kaufman was one of the biggest crooks in the East End. He ran several clubs; that's where Sonny's money has come from."

"I know. Sol's told me all about the old days and the Jewish Mafia. As I said, Abe rented Sol a chair, then Abe met Sol's daughter. The rest basically is history. Sol married the daughter, and when Abe died, he got the shop."

"So, you really want to be an architect?"

"Yes, but Mam won't allow it," Joseph replied. "She's got her heart set on me being a rabbi."

"I think she is going to be disappointed in that," I commented.

"Yes, unless there is a congregation that wants a queer, pork-eating rabbi."

We finished our lunch. I washed up while Joseph sorted something out for Sarah and then got chatting with Johnny, who arrived back just after two. The two of them were outside when Sarah got back from her long lunch and quickly got working with her.

Anne returned just after three. I took her outside to introduce her to Sarah. With that out of the way, we went back into to kitchen where I made some tea, Anne for once saying she would prefer a tea to a coffee. I went out and asked Sarah and the boys if they wanted a drink, but they said they were fine.

Over tea, Anne and I chatted about how the interview had gone at the college. It appears there was no problem with getting on the access course, and provided she got the grades, it virtually guaranteed her a place at university. I asked her what she proposed to do now?

"I've signed up for it, Mike," she told me. "Should probably have discussed it with you first, but I felt that if I did not sign up immediately, I would probably end up getting cold feet."

"That's always a possibility. You could still get cold feet and decide not to start."

"I could," she replied. "However, I've paid my course fees for the year so would lose that if I pulled out."

"So, how much time is this going to take up?"

"The course is taught fifteen hours a week," Anne replied. "There is a bit of flexibility in that. Some of the classes are also available at other times in the week. I can decide which fits my timetable better. I can even swap them from one week to the next. Unfortunately, that is not the case for all classes. Mostly, it is the Monday classes that are repeated on a Friday.

"At the moment, I have two classes on a Monday morning starting at ten, then one in the afternoon at two, so I will be finished at three. Tuesday and Wednesday are the same. Thursday is heavy, I have three classes in the morning, starting at nine, two in the afternoon starting at one, then two hours in the computing lab. Currently, my Fridays are free."

"Do you think you can manage that?"

"I'll have to, won't I? However, we need to talk about cleaners for this place."

I agreed, and for the next half hour, we discussed options. None of them quite fitted what we wanted.

Johnny and Joseph came in just after four-thirty with the information that Sarah had left but would be back tomorrow afternoon. That reminded me that I would not be here, so I told Anne about my trip to London.

I had just started to prepare dinner when Arthur came into the kitchen and asked if he could speak with me later. That was not a problem, but I did suggest to him that he join us for dinner. He declined, saying that he had just put a cottage pie in the oven.

Over dinner, we chatted about how things had gone during the day.

Johnny was saying that Steve was worried about the impact of Martin leaving the yard. He was the only full-time member of staff other than Steve. Martin was also the only other qualified boatbuilder in the yard. The two other lads who worked there were only labourers, though one was doing his carpentry qualification at the local college. Neither of them had an interest in boats. The job was just something to earn some money by. Anyway, both were short-term hires who expected to be laid off at the end of the season. Steve was now having to think about getting another boatbuilder in the yard. His problem was: did he get one now, that is, to replace Martin, or did he leave it till the start of the next season, so saving some wages?

It occurred to me that Steve seemed to be talking a lot to Johnny about the management of the yard.

Joseph filled us in on how the site survey was going. They had completed a primary baseline and two secondaries. Also, they had established the location of the primary baseline relative to the nearest Ordnance Survey trig point. With that information, they had started to map the positions of the main features on the site, a process that had already thrown up some discrepancies in the county map. It seems that there was a small but still significant error in the alignment of the main buildings on the county map.

I informed Johnny and Joseph that I was in Town tomorrow for an editorial conference. Joseph asked me if I would be seeing his father.

"I'm not planning to," I told him. "Why? Do you want me to?"

"I just thought…"

"I think we probably need to sort things out a bit more first," I commented.

Johnny looked from me to Joseph, wondering what was going on. Anne gave me a quizzical look. I gave her an 'I'll tell you later' smile.

After dinner, I returned to my study to do some more writing — actually, given how the day had gone, to do some writing. I started to outline an article on scientific advances of the nineteen fifties and was well into it when Arthur knocked on the door.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"I've got too much work," Arthur commented.

"How so?" I enquired.

"Well, it seems that some local businesses were not keen on doing business with me before because of the Brethren connection," Arthur stated. "Now they know that is no longer an issue, they are putting work my way. The thing is, I am now getting more than I can cope with, but I do not want to turn work down. At the moment, there is not enough extra work to justify taking anyone on."

"Why don't you speak to Anne about it?" I suggested.


"Yes," I replied, "she's just enrolled for a computer-science access course at the college. I am sure she would love to help out. You will have to teach her what to do, but it could give you some extra help without having to take someone onto the payroll full time."

We spent about twenty minutes discussing what sort of thing Anne might be able to help with. It turned out a significant part of Arthur's day was used up running administration scripts remotely on systems he provided network support for. I was reasonably confident that Anne would be able to do some of that for him.

The other problem that Arthur had was a bit more complicated. A number of his new customers were now asking him to obtain kit for them. The thing was, Arthur's business did not have a retailer's account with any of the suppliers, and it did not have the history to be able to set one up. Another issue was the lack of retail premises. In the end, I suggested he should look at becoming an agent for one of the bigger IT-equipment-supply companies. He said he would look into it.

With that sorted, Arthur went off to speak to Anne.

Later that night, lying in bed with Anne, I told her about my chat with Joseph and the problems at school. She told me about her discussions with Arthur. It turned out that most of the administration scripts needed to be run either at weekends or in the evenings when the clients were closed for business. The problem was that Arthur was now being called on to do upgrades and installations. These also had to be done in the evening or at weekends. Arthur was finding it difficult to find time to do both. They had agreed that Anne would start to do some support work for him in the evening and at weekends when Arthur had to be out doing installations.

Tuesday morning saw me up early and on my way to get the train into London. I needed to be at Southminster station before eight if I was to be sure to be at Liverpool Street before nine-thirty.

I had to drive into Dunford before I could turn left to get onto the road that would take me to Southminster. As I turned into Dunford, I noticed the old newsagent's shop had a for-sale or to-let board up outside it.

The building was not much more than a concrete-walled shed with a tin roof. It stood in a plot of land at the edge of town and was set well back from the road with a paved parking area in front. A thought started to germinate in my mind, and I made a mental note to speak with Arthur and Anne when I got home.

Once on the train, I texted Bernard to let him know that I was in town for the day but would probably be tied up in meetings till mid-afternoon. I also put in that I was going to try and visit Bob once my meetings were over. About twenty minutes later, I got a text back saying he was in court all day, but would I join him for a drink at the Lamb and Flag at six? I texted back that I would try but could not say that I would make it as I did not know how long I would be at Bob's.

Just after nine, I phoned Susan and asked how Bob was. I also asked if he was up to receiving visitors. She told me that he was doing alright but got very tired. It turned out that it would not be possible to visit in the afternoon as he had a hospital appointment for four. A bit annoying. I wanted to talk to Bob about his plans now. If he decided to retire due to ill health — and with over four million from his shares in the Martha Hartmann Agency, he could well afford to — I would need to sort out alternative representation.

The editorial meeting was a lot more interesting and productive than many I had attended in the past. What was of interest was the discussion about which decade a particular scientific advance should be assigned' For instance, did the laser belong to the nineteen tens, when Einstein first formulated the idea of collated radiation emission? Alternatively, did it belong to the nineteen fifties, when the first real theoretical work on it took place, or was it the nineteen sixties when the technology allowed the theory to be implemented? There were even voices saying it should be the seventies or eighties when commercial lasers came into being.

There were even bigger arguments about rocketry, with every decade in the first half of the century claiming an important scientific advance in the field. In the end, it was agreed that in addition to our decade pieces, each of us would write a single thousand-word article about a particular area of scientific development over the century. I landed rocketry; I would have much-preferred lasers.

The editorial meeting went on for most of the day, interrupted only by an exceedingly good lunch. I complimented Chris over it. He reminded me that I had made a good lunch a condition of being there.

It was just after four-thirty when we wound up the meeting, and before I could leave, Chris cornered me to talk about a couple of other special articles that they wanted. In the end, I ended up with a nice load of commissions but was a lot later getting out than I had expected. However, not being able to visit Bob meant there was no time pressure, and I got to the Lamb and Flag getting on for six. Had just got to the bar when Bernard arrived.

"How was court?" I asked.

"Bloody awful," he replied. "Mine's a double Black Label, no ice."

I repeated his order to the barmaid and looked round to see if there was an empty table — wishful thinking at this time of day. Bernard did manage to find a quiet corner where there was a bit of a shelf to rest our drinks on. As soon as I had got the drinks and paid for them, I went over and joined him.

"So, what went wrong?" I asked.

"Bloody client completely changed their story under cross-examination," he replied. "For the last eighteen months, since the first letter before action was received, they have insisted that they did not know the plaintiff's French book. He even said that he did not speak French.

"Then it turns out that he had lived and gone to school in France for three years. During that time, he had met the woman who was the author of the French book and that they had kept in contact for the last twenty years. It seems they had written to each other three or four times a year — in French. He admitted that she had sent him a copy of the French book as a Christmas present in 2000."

"So, what happens now?" I asked.

"I've got a meeting with the other side's legal team in about two hours. We are going to see if we can settle without it going to judgement. I'm surprised they have even agreed to meet; they must know they have the case sewn up.

"By the way, I had a meeting with Trevor Spade last night."

I looked at Bernard in surprise.

"I thought Rossendale and Gale acted for him."

"They do — or rather, they did," Bernard informed me. "He's not happy with the representation. It was arranged by his parents when he first started in films. They were Bob's solicitors — or at least have been in the past in their work for the Hartmann agency. Anyway, it seems they have breached confidence in talking to Trevor's parents about a lease he was entering into."

"Aren't you in danger of breaching a confidence?"

"No, because some of what we discussed concerned you, and he asked that you be informed. I was going to take it up with you at the weekend, but now is probably as good a time as any. He is making a new will and an advance health directive. His wishes are that you and Ben act as non-professional executors on his will and that you both act for him in the case of incapacity to make decisions under the advance health directive."

"Shouldn't that be for his parents to do?"

"Normally, yes, and if there weren't an AHD in place, it would be, but now he has made his views very clear," Bernard pronounced. "He trusts you and Ben to do the right thing for him; he says he can't trust his parents."

"Shit!" I exclaimed. "Ok, you can let him know I will do it, but he needs to speak to me about it."

"He's planning to when he goes home at the weekend," Bernard said.

It hit me then that the flat was now home for Trevor. He would be there when he was not filming.

Bernard and I chatted for a bit longer. He wanted to know how Joseph was doing and filled me in on the events over the weekend. I told him that part of the problem might be to do with school.

"What about the school? He's at one of the best in London."

"I know, Bernard, but it is also the school Micah went to. At the moment, I really can't discuss it, but it might be an idea if you had a look around for alternatives. Hopefully, we can talk about it more at the weekend."

"Oh…" he sighed. "Well, I suppose a nod is as good as a wink to a blind man."

"I think I have given you a bit more than a nod."

"Yes, I suppose you have, Mike. What is it with you? All these teenagers seem to trust you, even your son. They usually don't trust parents."

I told Bernard that I had some insight into Joseph's problems, but at the moment, we were still talking things through. Until we had, I did not think it was right for me to discuss them further. Bernard accepted that. He was not happy about it, but he accepted it.

Bernard walked with me up to Holborn, where I caught the Tube to Liverpool Street. The legal teams had agreed to meet at the Amalfi on Southampton Row for dinner while they thrashed out a settlement. I was quite sure there were going to be some excellent wines served that would go on their clients' bills, although most of the costs would be on Bernard's client.

As I got to Holborn underground station, I saw the headline banner for the Evening Standard. It was about mass arrests in a child-pornography case. I got a copy and read it on the train. The story was reasonably straightforward. Following the arrest of a thirty-six-year-old man at Heathrow Airport and the subsequent search of his apartment, police in six countries had arrested several men on child-pornography-related charges. Some two hundred and ten arrests had been in the UK. A further two hundred and one in the USA; other arrests had been made in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand, bringing the total number arrested to over five hundred.

One interesting bit was that the article reported that unnamed sources stated that all those arrested were involved in the film or television industry.

"Trevor's been on the phone," Anne stated as I walked into the house. "I told him you were in London and would not be back till late. He asked if you could call him back."

"OK, I'll do it when I've eaten."

"There is some fisherman's pie in the warming oven," she informed me as she filled the kettle for some tea. I got the pie out of the warming oven.

"There's not much," I commented.

"Well, there are two teenage boys to feed," she replied. "There's some salad for you in the fridge. I've also made peanut-butter-and-chocolate-ganache cheesecake. That's also in the fridge."

"You mean to tell me those two left some?"

"I did not tell them I had made two. They demolished the other one, though I must admit I helped."

"Where are they?".

"It's Tuesday," Anne answered as if that was enough of an answer. I looked at her, and she realised I needed more information. "Youth Club."

I finished off what was left of the fisherman's pie and had a good slice of the cheesecake, then went to my study to phone Trevor. It turned out he just wanted to let me know about being an executor and the named party on the will and the advanced health directive. I told him that Bernard had already spoken to me about it.

"Will you do it, then?"

"Yes, if it is what you really want," I replied.

"Thanks, Mike," he answered. "I'll talk to you about it at the weekend." I could see that I was going to be in for a busy weekend.

After I had finished my call with Trevor, it occurred to me that I should have mentioned the Evening Standard article. However, on second thought, I concluded that it was probably best not to. I did not want to get Trevor stressed about it. I did, though, decide to call Allen Davidson to see if he knew anything more.

"Can't tell you much more than what's in the paper," Allen informed me when I got through to him and had explained the reason for my call. "As I told you, Mayers' kept all his records on an encrypted hard disk but kept the password in his desk drawer. My contacts in the Yard say they have over two-thousand names and contact details. At the moment, though, they have just taken out the main players, at least those in countries we have good police relations with."

"There are others?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, there are several high-profile names from the old Eastern Bloc. Now, most of their police forces are not that co-operative. Indeed, a couple can be bloody obstructive."

By the time I had finished the call, it was getting on for ten, and I was in no mood for writing, so I joined Anne in the sitting room. She was reading, so I grabbed a book that I had been trying to get finished for a couple of weeks. Just before eleven, I heard the van pull into the drive, and not long after, Joseph and Johnny came in to tell us they were back, then went off to the kitchen to sort themselves something to drink.

Johnny brought a couple of mugs of hot chocolate through for Anne and myself, then asked me if I could run him into Maldon in the morning. He wanted to talk to somebody at the college about his options. I told him it would not be a problem. Anne and I finished our chocolate then went up to bed.

Wednesday morning, I drove Johnny into Maldon. He said he would get the bus back, so there was no need for me to wait for him. I told him to give me a call when he was on the bus, and I would pick him up in Dunford.

Getting back to the house just after ten, I decided to get down to some work till Johnny called to be picked up. Joseph was already outside with Sarah doing some survey work.

I started by checking my emails. There was one from one Chris Klempt, a producer with the BBC, asking me to contact him about participating in a science show on Radio 4. That was certainly interesting. I phoned him.

It turned out that Mark Dowland had suggested me, which surprised me. That was the second recommendation in three days. What was going on? Why was Professor Mark Dowland recommending me? Yes, we knew each other, but there was no way I would classify us as friends. We had not even collaborated on any writing projects.

I discussed what was required with Chris. The offer was for me to join the team on a long-running, weekly science programme. The program ran three series a year, each series being either twelve or thirteen episodes. I would have to go to Broadcasting House in London to record the programmes, and they usually looked to record material for three programmes in one day. As a newcomer to the series, I could expect to get at least six spots in the next series. I mentioned that I would need at least that to make it worthwhile and was assured that they would guarantee that number of appearances in a series.

We then discussed money. It was not world-shattering, but it was considerably more than I made for the average day's work. More importantly, they covered expenses over and above my fees. They would even cover the costs for any research I had to do in preparation for recording.

Overall, it was a bit too good an offer to turn down, so I gave it a provisional acceptance. There would have to be a voice test to see if my voice was acceptable for radio, though the producer said that after speaking to me on the phone, he was sure I would pass. We agreed that the next time I was going to London, I would contact him to arrange to go in for a test recording.

Having finished that call, I looked up my contact details for Professor Dowland. I only had an email address and his university phone number. As it was out of term, I was not very hopeful of getting him at his university. I was right; his secretary informed me that he was only in two days a week during the vacation, and this was not one of his days.

She asked me what my call was about, and I told her that Professor Dowland had put my name forward for some work at the BBC and that the BBC had contacted me. As I had no idea about him putting my name forward, I would like to speak to him before I made any commitment to the BBC. She asked for my contact details and said she would pass the message on. With that, she ended my call.

Before I got down to any writing, I decided I would have a look at the estate agent's site for the details of the old newsagent's place. Reading them, I was not impressed. The rent seemed far too high to me, and the asking price was well over the odds.

I did, though, print out the details.

Mark Dowland must have a very efficient secretary. Half an hour after my call to his secretary, he called me. I thanked him for recommending me but asked why.

"Yes, this is a bit difficult, Mike," he stated. "I must ask you to keep it totally confidential, at least till the end of the month."

"If that is what you want, I will," I replied.

"The thing is, it hasn't been announced yet, but I have been appointed to the Talbot Chair of Physical Sciences," Mark said. The Talbot is one of the premier scientific professorships in Europe, if not in the world. I congratulated Mark.

"It does, however, cause a few problems," Mark continued. "It is seriously going to cut into the amount of broadcasting work I can do. At the moment in my present position, it is not a problem to clear a half day or even a day a week to do interviews and take part in recordings. Then I use the vacations to do the significant TV programmes that I present.

"Once I take up the Talbot, that is not going to be an option. I will be restricted to doing broadcast work during the vacations. Knowing this, I met with Chris for breakfast when I came down to London yesterday for the editorial meeting. He had just heard about Tom France's stroke; then I told him that I had to cut back on my broadcasting work. Chris said he needed to get somebody else on the panel of contributors, so I suggested you."

"I appreciate it, Mark," I responded. "The thing is, I don't understand why you are recommending me. I would have thought one of your academic colleagues would have been up for it."

"Oh, I have no doubt they would have jumped at it, if offered," Mark said. "However, they are the last persons I would want taking the job."

"Why on earth not?"

"They are my academic colleagues, yes; they are also my academic rivals," Mark informed me. "Prestige and how well-known you are counts for a lot when you are applying for grants. The last thing I want to do is give a platform to a fellow academic who may be competing with me for a research grant sometime in the next few years.

"I'll be honest, Mike, if you do well on the radio, you could find yourself with all sorts of work coming your way. Stuff you have never thought about. You are a damned good scientific writer; you have the knack of making complicated scientific stuff understandable to the general public. That is just what the broadcast media needs.

"Yes, there are some of my academic colleges who could do it just as well or better than you can. However, you are not going to be in competition with me for research grants. From my perspective, that is important. That's why I recommended you."

I thanked him for the recommendation again and told him I hoped I would not let him down. He told me he doubted I would but then went on to give me some useful advice about working on radio and television. I commented that I was only doing radio.

"That's the first step," Mark said. "Trust me, they are desperate for people who are good communicators of science. Do well on the radio and you will find yourself on TV in no time. Strangely, it is a lot easier, and the fees are a lot better."

"Why is it easier?" I asked.

"Because you can use diagrams to show your point. Pictures and radio don't mix well."

I thanked Mark for his call and rang off, then got back to my writing for the day. Shortly after twelve, I took a break and made some lunch for Anne and myself. While lunch was cooking, I called Arthur and asked him to come over. He asked if he could make it later as he was just finishing something off and it would take him about an hour. I told him that was OK.

Once lunch was over, it was back to the office to get back to some writing. Not that I got much done. I had just opened a file when my phone went; it was Johnny. He was on the bus to Dunford and would be there in about ten minutes. I had expected more notice.

When I picked Johnny up from the bus stop, it was clear that he was not very happy.

"Had any lunch?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

"OK, I'll treat you to a burger." I pulled the car into a parking space in the square. Johnny said he would prefer something a bit lighter, so we walked down to the harbour and into the tearoom. I was surprised to see Edith Jenkins there at a table with two young women. She gave me a nod of acknowledgement as we entered. It was the type that said I have seen you, but please sit somewhere else. I took the hint and guided Johnny to the corner table at the far end.

Johnny ordered an omelette and a large coffee; I plumped for a pot of tea. While waiting for the food, I asked Johnny what was wrong.

"It's not going to work," Johnny stated.

"What's not?" I asked.

"Plume College. It's not going to work for me."

"Why not?"

"Basically, it is the sixth form of the school that has been opened up. It is still very much a sixth-form school geared up for A-levels to get you into university."

"Isn't that what you want?"

"Yes, but I want more," he replied. "I want some flexibility. For a start, I want to do French in one year, but the only way I can do it there is to do AS-level this year then the A-level next. If I want to do it in one year, then I will have to enter it as an external entrant at another establishment, and there would be no teaching support.

"Also, there is no ability there to mix vocational with academic. You are in one stream or the other. I want to do woodwork or carpentry to City and Guilds to get me ready for when I go to the International Boatbuilding College."

"It looks as if you need to look elsewhere," I observed.

"The problem is the alternatives are shit to get to."

"Difficult, I agree but not impossible to get to. How about Southmead College?" I asked.

"Dad, it's seven miles, and there is no direct bus going there. I would have to get a bus into Chelmsford then a bus out; it would take nearly three hours each way."

"I know, but Anne is starting there in September, so you could get a lift from her most days. Also, we agreed you would be getting a moped. It would take about a quarter of an hour on that. If it comes to a push or the weather is bad, I'll drop you off or pick you up. In the worst case, we could sort you a room locally to use during the week."

"You would do that?"

"If necessary, yes," I replied. Just then, Johnny's omelette arrived with chips and salad. I realised too late that my pot of tea was somewhat insufficient. Once Johnny had finished his meal, I paid the bill, and we left. On the way out, Johnny stopped to talk to one of the girls sitting with Miss Jenkins. I noticed they were speaking French.

Back in the car, I asked him if he knew the girl.

"Yes," he replied. "She is one of the girls from the yacht who came to the youth club."

We had just got back to the house when Arthur came in, looking rather dirty but very pleased with himself. Johnny went off to do some research on Southmead College. I asked Arthur what he had been up to.

"Winding the replacement rope on the drive-train barrel for the clock," he replied. "Going to fix the weights when I get back, and hopefully it should be running."

"Right," I replied. "Do you know anything about the place that used to be the newsagents on Hill Road?"

"Used to go in there when it was open," Arthur informed me. "Old Mrs Craven ran it; had it for years. Her husband ran it before, but he died. She died a couple of years ago, and the family sold it. Heard it had been bought by some development company that wanted to put houses there."

That was an interesting piece of news. The question was: if they were going to put houses on it, why had they not? It was an ideal spot for a block of townhouses, and there was a housing shortage in the area.

"Well, Arthur, it is up for sale or to let," I informed him. "Would it be any use as a retail outlet for the business?"

"Could be," he replied. "But could the business afford it?"

"That depends on a number of things," I answered. "At what they are asking for it, probably not. If we can get it cheaper, then maybe. The thing is, how are you doing for new, network-maintenance contracts? They are the work that is bringing in the money."

"Well, I got another one last week," Arthur informed me. "I'm seeing Balling's Bricks on Friday about taking on their IT support."

"Right, let's do a cash-flow projection and see where we're at," I suggested. "If we can do it this evening, it would help. In the meantime, I will speak with Matt. He seems to know nearly everything going on concerning property around here."

Arthur agreed and said he would be over about eight with the up-to-date trading figures. I did invite him to dinner, but he declined, saying that now he had the flat, he felt he should try living in it. That meant doing his own cooking. I asked him how he was managing with that.

"Well, Mike, I am not up to your standard, but at least I've not burnt the toast yet," he replied. "Not done so good with water, however!"

"What happened?"

"Put a pan of water on the ring to boil," he replied. "The phone went. I answered it and got caught up in the conversation. Ended up forgetting about the pan of water."

"Don't worry," I told him, "We've all done it." I did not add I had done it more times than I cared to remember.

Arthur went off, back to work on the clock. I went into my study. There were a couple of new emails but nothing urgent, so I settled down to get some writing done. Was quite successful; got two articles finished and sent off to the appropriate editors. Also, I managed to get some more work done on updating the maths book.

Johnny came in to see me just before four with his mobile stuck to his ear, asking if I could run him over to Southmead College tomorrow afternoon. I told him it was not a problem and asked what time he had to be there. He spoke briefly on the phone, confirming he could go in for a meeting, then informed me two o'clock.

I went through to the lounge and found Anne busy reading a copy of New Scientist. That was a change; usually, she would be reading a book or watching TV. Mentioning it, I found myself being given a lecture on quantum computing. Made a mental note not to ask in the future. I did, though, ask her about dinner. Anne told me she had got some steaks, so I suggested steak, egg and chips. Anne agreed and informed me, as it was my suggestion, I could make them.

I went to the kitchen to start peeling some potatoes for the chips. They are a lot better if you let them soak in water for an hour or so before frying. I was planning on making quite-thick-cut chips rather than French fries, so that they would need a minimum of an hour — better two — to get the starch out of them.

About halfway through the pile of spuds I had set to get peeled, Joseph and Sarah came into the kitchen. I asked how things were going.

"Well, we have finished the ground survey," Sarah informed me. "I'm going to take it all back to the museum and will get it drawn up. I'll probably have to go to the university to get the data plotted out. I don't think the museum's A3 plotter will cope with it.

"That's going to take me a couple of days; then I hope to start the laser scanning. Unfortunately, there is rain forecast for the end of the week, so it looks as if we will not be able to start on that till next week. Though, given I have to plan the scan path first, it probably does not matter.

"There is one thing. Is it possible to get up on top of the tower?"

"To be honest, Sarah, I don't know?" I replied. "I would think there is some way up, but how, I am not certain. The upper rooms in the tower are in a bit of a state, so we have avoided going in them. They are due to be refurbished as part of the alteration work we are having done.

"The person who would know would be Matt, our architect. He did a complete survey of the building. Why?"

"It would be good to have a couple of scans done from high points. Joseph introduced me to Arthur, and he says he can get the scanner set up on top of the clock tower, so that is one high point. The top of your tower would be the second if we can get up there."

"Look, talk with Matt," I told her, writing Matt's contact details out for her. "If you can get it up there, I've no problem with you doing it, provided none of the boys goes climbing up any ladders."

Sarah thanked me for the information, then left. Joseph asked if Johnny was home. I told him I thought Johnny was in his room. With that information, Joseph went, pounding up the stairs — yet another herd of elephants."

I had just finished putting the potato chips into soak when Arthur came over. He said he had something to show us and asked that we all come over to the Stable Block. Calling upstairs, I informed Johnny and Joseph that their presence was required; I then went through to let Anne know.

"It's alright," she said. "I heard."

The four of us followed Arthur across to the stable yard and then to the Stable Block. We entered through the clock-tower door. As we did, Arthur stopped and pointed upwards, an indication that was totally unnecessary. A loud tock had drawn all our attention. Some ten feet above us, a pendulum swung, reminding me of a scene from a Hammer Horror film. Fortunately, this pendulum did not seem to have an urge to drop lower with each swing.

"You got it working," Johnny stated.

"Yes," Arthur replied. "Though I have yet to get it adjusted to keep the correct time, it seems to be fairly accurate. As far as I can tell, we have a two-second period on the pendulum. Had it running for an hour, and it is showing the correct time. Need to run it for a week to know if it is gaining or losing before I adjust it."

"How do you adjust it?" I asked.

"You add weight to the pendulum — or subtract it," Arthur stated.

"Are you sure that's safe," I asked, looking up into the clock loft.

"It seems to be, though it may be an idea to put a ceiling in above the hall, just in case." He did have a point. Immediately above us, there was a void going all the way up to the clock loft. The only thing interrupting the view of the clock mechanism above us were a couple of beams that spanned the building from front to back. The void occupied a full third of the front of the hall. At the back were the stairs leading up to the first floor, then up to the apartment.

Johnny suggested using a piece of thick acrylic so the mechanism would still be viewable. I rather liked the idea, so I told Arthur to sort it out.

Thursday morning, I woke early and got down to doing some writing before anybody else got up. I also managed to lose track of time completely, so was a bit surprised when Johnny brought a mug of tea for me into my study and told me he was off to the yard, which meant it must be getting on for nine. I reminded him about going to Southmead College.

"That's fine, Dad," he informed me. "I'm not working this morning; just popping in to talk with Steve. Should be back about eleven." With that, he left. I closed what I was working on and decided to get some breakfast before I checked my emails. Anne was in the kitchen when I got there.

"A good morning?" she asked.

"Yes, most productive. Always seem able to get a lot done when I wake early and decide to write."

"Probably means you have sorted it all out in you sleep," she stated. I just nodded and popped some bread into the toaster.

"Is Joseph up yet?" I wanted to speak with him.

"He went out about half an hour ago," Anne informed me. "He's cycling down into Dunford as he wants to get some money from the ATM. Then he is going to get the bus into Maldon. Said he should be back about three."

I got my breakfast and then went back to the study, this time to sort out my emails. There were the usual ones offering to improve my sex life, telling me of an excellent investment and those asking for my support for some cause or other than I had no intention of having anything to do with.

There was one email from some lawyers in the States with a pdf attachment. I read it and the attachment but could not make sense of it. As far as I could understand, they were saying the Hartmann agency could not accept my notice of termination of representation as the clause in my agreement that named it was invalid. It seems they were arguing that any amendment to their standard contract had to be authorised by the board and there was no record of such authorisation. I forwarded the email to Bernard.

Bernard must have been primed, no doubt by Mark Dowland, who would probably have received a similar email. About three minutes after I had sent the email to Bernard, I got a reply.

"Don't worry, already dealing with it. They are Ritter's New York lawyers, and in this case, English and US law differ. If that clause is invalid, then the whole agreement fails, and you do not have to give notice."

That surprised me as I was under the impression that if a clause in a contract were invalid, then it would be struck out, but the rest of the agreement would operate. It was clear that Bernard did not think this was the case. I needed to ask him about it next time I spoke with him.

There was also an email from Bob asking me to phone him and giving me a new contact number. I called him on it.

"Thanks for calling, Mike," he said as he answered.

"What's with the new number?" I asked.

"Not certain about the status of the old number. Although the phone was in my name, the agency paid the bills," he informed me. "They could claim it was a Hartmann business phone and that in using it to contact people about the new agency I was using Hartmann data — that is, the telephone numbers in my contact list. So, I have set up a new account with a new number; also got a new phone. Will be using this one in future."

"No doubt you have copied your contacts over to your new phone," I stated.

"Of course, but they are now stored on a SIM that Hartmann's have no interest in."

"Well, I must say you sound as if you are back at being your old self," I stated. "How are you now?"

"To be honest, a lot better than I was at the weekend. It has, though, hit me a bit hard. I am still getting tired very easily."

"So, what does this mean for your new agency?" I asked.

"Probably not much," Bob told me. "It is going to be at least three months before we pick up any of the authors who are bailing out of Hartmann. Most will come over at the end of the year or even later. In the meantime, I have plenty of time to take things easy and get things set up.

"The nice thing is Hartmann's are going to have to pay me while I am doing it."

"Ahh," I commented. "The severance clause in your contract."

"Yes, in my case, three years," he said "Most of the others, it is one or two years. By the way, Janet Long from the Susan Beck agency is going to be joining us as well. She is going to take over the TV- and film-script work, so a lot less travelling for me."

I did not say anything about that, not having any idea who Janet Long was. I did know the Susan Beck agency. It was a significant agency dealing with theatrical, television and film scripts. I suspected that if Bob thought it was a point worth mentioning, Janet Long must be something of a catch.

"Anyway, I don't think you asked me to call just to talk about the agency," I said.

"No, you're right, I want to speak to you about Trevor. Both Susan and I do. We are coming into Central London tomorrow. I've got a scan at the hospital at nine-thirty and wondered if it might be possible to meet for lunch, say about one?"

I did not need to go into London, but when I thought about it, there was a lot I could get done if I did. For a start, I could pop into the offices of the science magazine and check out their archives. I could also do the voice test for the Beeb. After a moment or two's thought, I agreed to meet Bob and Susan. Bob said he would reserve a table at the Connaught for us at one. Once that was decided, we rang off. I emailed Chris at the BBC to let him know that I would be in Town the following day. About half an hour later, I got a reply telling me that a voice test had been arranged for three in the afternoon and giving me directions as to where to go.

Just after eleven-thirty, Johnny arrived back. He called to tell me he was making some coffee and asked if I wanted some tea. I said yes, then went through to the kitchen. Anne was there going through a pile of papers at the kitchen table.

"Anything important?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she responded. "This lot goes back before John died. I don't know what I need to keep and what I can get rid of."

"Is it urgent that we sort it out now?"

"Not really, I was just going through some of the boxes I had not unpacked and found them," Anne replied.

"Well, it's not as if we are short of storage room here. Why not make a note of what is there and then re-pack them and put them in one of the outbuildings? We can look at them later."

Anne nodded, grabbed a pencil and paper and started to make a list of documents that were in the pile. Johnny put a mug of tea on the table in front of me and a coffee in front of Anne.

"Thanks," I said. "How did things go at the yard?"

"Good," Johnny informed me. "I spoke with Steve about what work might be available over the winter. He's asked me if I can run the chandlery on Saturdays ten till four and Sundays ten till one. When it is not busy, which is likely most of the time, I can help him in the yard."

"So, the yard is going to be open during the weekends?" I asked.

"Yes, Steve is going to try opening more hours over the winter. Though, there will only be him and me in at the weekends."

I nodded. I could understand where Steve was coming from. With the milder winters, we were getting more and more weekend sailors coming up from town. Staying open at weekends could boost business. I was not sure, though, if it would be enough to justify keeping the yard open. Most of the yards basically closed down from the end of October until March.

As Sarah had predicted, it started to rain just after twelve. I mentioned to Anne that Joseph was going to get soaked cycling back from the bus stop. She told me it would be his fault as she had told him to take a waterproof.

Once lunch was over, I took Johnny to Southmead College. Although just over seven miles away by road, it is some four miles as the crow flies, the route is down narrow, country backroads, and it took us the better part of half an hour to make the journey. We had, however, left with plenty of time to spare, so it was still only twenty to two when I dropped Johnny off outside the college with instructions to call me when he wanted to be picked up.

One good thing, the rain which had been pouring down earlier had eased off and was now nothing more than a light drizzle.

Rather than return home, which would take me another half hour, then face another trip back to pick Johnny up, I decided to find a café locally and get a tea and hopefully some decent cake. I was not to be disappointed. A few hundred yards down from the main entrance to the college, I found a small café.

It did not look like much. In fact, the place looked a bit rundown. However, it was close to the college, and it had parking. I pulled up in one of their parking spaces. It was noticeable that I was the only car there. When I went in, it was noticeable that there were no other customers.

The ringing of the bell over the door as I entered brought a large lady scurrying from the back. A name badge on her apron declared she was Marge, I guessed to be the owner of the place; it was called Marge's Café.

"Sorry, luv," she said. "All I can offer you is tea, coffee and cakes. Just closed the kitchen down for the day. Not much demand for it round here once lunch is over out of term."

"Tea and cake would be fine," I stated.

"Would that be a mug of tea or a pot?"

"Pot, please," I answered, surprised I had the choice.

"And what type of tea would you like; we have most of the main types and a few specialities as well."

"Earl Grey?" I requested.

"I can offer you the original Twinings Earl Grey or Betty's Earl Grey. Personally, I prefer Betty's, but some folk find it a bit too aromatic for their liking."

"I've never heard of Betty's tea. Think I will try it."

"It's good, specially blended for Betty's Tearooms up in Yorkshire. They know a good tea up there," Marge informed me.

"I wouldn't know. Never been up that part of Yorkshire. The furthest I ever got was Sheffield."

"You should go. Try Betty's. Best tearooms in the country. What cake would you have? The choice is limited to chocolate, walnut and coffee or lime cheesecake."

I opted for the walnut and coffee. Marge vanished off into the back. She was soon back to put cutlery on the table before disappearing again. Some four minutes later, she re-appeared with a tray containing my order. She placed it on the table in front of me, then retreated to a perch behind the counter. I poured myself a cup of the tea — no milk, no sugar. Marge was right, it was a bit more aromatic than the Twining's Earl Grey, but I liked it. The cake, though, was something to die for. It had clearly been made using real coffee and not coffee essence; there were also plenty of walnuts in it and a clear walnut taste. What really made it was the layer of coffee flavoured buttercream icing in the centre and the layer of fudge frosting on top.

I complimented Madge on them.

"I try to make them to be as good as anything you would find in Betty's," she responded.

"You seem proud of Betty's," I commented. "Though you don't sound as if you come from Yorkshire. Your accent is more Essex."

"That it is, for I'm from this side of Romford. Married a Yorkshire man, Jack, the best thing I ever did. Spent twenty-odd years up in Harrogate till me Dad died and I had to move back down here to look after Mam. Hadn't been back six months when first Jack got ill, and then Mam died. Got this place to give me something to do and some income to support Jack."

"Must be a bit of a struggle," I commented, looking around the empty café.

"Oh, don't let this fool you," Marge responded. "It's vacation; hardly anyone in the college. I don't think they even have any summer courses on this week and next. In term time, this place is packed — especially for breakfast and lunch. Can do fifty full English and double that number of bacon sarnies in a morning. Most days, we will do over a hundred lunches. It's hectic in here. Need three girls serving and two more plus chef in the kitchen.

"Give them all August off, the only time we get a break. I'm only open from nine to three outside term time. During the term, we stay open till ten at night; gives those doing evening classes somewhere to get refreshment."

"Isn't there somewhere in the college for them to eat?"

"Oh, yes, they've got a refectory," she replied. "Best avoided from what we hear. The Hendersons have got that concession and are milking it for all they can manage — poor quality stuff at inflated prices. The students avoid it as much as they can. Even the head of hospitality and catering comes over here to eat."

The Hendersons. Now that was interesting. I made a mental note to pass the information onto Bernard.

"So, how come you 'round this way this time of year?" she asked. "You don't sound local — London, Golders Green way, I would guess. And I would say you're not a lecturer or student."

"You've got a good ear," I stated. "Born Golders Green; the family moved to Hampstead when I was eleven. I lived in Lynnhaven, but I'm just outside Dunford now; just dropped the son off to sort out his enrolment for some courses."

"Lynnhaven, that's a bit of an out-of-the-way place. Thought Southmead was bad, but at least we have the college. Can't be much work out that way," she observed.

"Not much, but I'm a technical writer and can work from home," I told her. "My parents retired there. They died just before my divorce and left me their place, so I moved in."

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