Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 7

Mum's exclamation fitted my thoughts. Why on earth would Uncle Ben think that Dad might want to invest in buying the shunting yard?

"Well, it appears that I already own part of it," Dad informed us.

"You what?" Mum said.

"Have you noticed that, when you get to the top of Sidings Lane where it turns left and runs along the side of the shunting yard, the road quality changes."

"Yes," Mum acknowledged. "It's more like a dirt track than a road. I suppose now there is no railway traffic using it, the council don't see the point of keeping it up."

"The reason they don't keep it up, luv, is that it is not their responsibility. It's a private road, one that has never been adopted," Dad told us. "When the railway came out this way, the Elmchurchs were clever. They sold land that the shunting yard is on to the railway company before the railway company got compulsory purchase rights. However, they did not sell the access road to Grange Farm; they kept that, only giving the railway company a limited right of passage over the access road on condition they maintained it. It specifically states that access is only allowed for purpose of railway business.

"It seems that we effectively own a ransom strip."

"What is a ransom strip?" I asked.

"It's a piece of land, usually quite small, which prevents another piece of land being used due to access requirements without the payment of a fee or licence," Dad informed me. "In this case, it blocked development of the shunting yard into housing or industrial use, as the right of way across the private road is restricted to activities connected to or part of the railway business. Since they demolished the viaduct to put in the ring road, the only way in or out of that piece of land has been across the private road that we own as part of Grange Farm."

"What about the road that comes up to the sheds from Marshside Road?" Mum asked. She clearly knew a lot more about the geography of the area than either Dad or me. Then again, she had been born and raised here.

"Actually, luv, the bit of that road that runs in front of the sheds is part of our private road, part of the ransom strip," Dad stated.

I thought about it and realised he was right. The shunting yard formed a triangular piece of land. The apex of the triangle was where the sheds were. The private road running along the back of the estate was the longest side of the triangle. On the far side of the triangle from the Grange Farm property, there was a very steep slope down to some pastureland. The base of the triangle was formed by a steep slope down to the river Dun, on the other side of which was the bypass. You could still see the remains of an old railway bridge now long gone which would have connected the yard to the railway lines beyond, though the lines in question had been ripped up years ago. There was now a cycle track and a couple of small housing estates where the railway lines used to be.

Dad spent some time discussing what Uncle Ben's idea was and what the benefits could be. Finally, I had to ask, "Dad, can you afford it without risking this place?"

"Actually, I can," Dad replied. "There is the mortgage-cover insurance that I will be getting as a result of your mother's death. It's three-hundred thousand and will cover the half that Ben is asking us to put in to buy the land."

"Yes, but then there is the cost doing something with the land. You know putting up the buildings or something," Mum pointed out.

"We won't have to carry that. Once we have the land and can sort out the ransom-strip issue, we will sell a leasehold to commercial developers who will put up the buildings; we will get a ground rent from them."

There was not much more to discuss. It was agreed we would discuss it again next week after Uncle Ben had been able to put together some more facts and figures. Mum went off to join Grandma and Granddad watching the box. Dad asked me to contact Jim and see if there was any chance he could get the Luton for Saturday.


"Johnny, there were some pieces of furniture in that house which were gifts from my grandmother. If they are still there, I would like to have them but need some means of getting them back here. If Jim can get the Luton van for the day, I would much prefer to pay him to move them back here than having to pay some white-van man."

That I could understand, and thinking about it, I figured out which pieces of furniture Dad was referring to. A couple of times I had heard mother saying something about Dad being supposed to collect them, but he never did.

I went to the library and phoned Jim. He thought he could get the van and would be glad to provide a removal service. I told him he could sort out a price with Dad. Jim assured me he would once he confirmed he had the use of the van.

That done, I went and let Dad know and told him that Jim would contact him tomorrow to confirm details. With that out of the way, I went up to my room to sort out what I needed for college on Wednesday.

I was rather surprised on Wednesday morning when I got to the college to find that Simone Thompson was there. She had not been in college since the John Henderson incident. It turned out then that she had been placed in the college by Miss Jenkins to keep an eye on me. So, why was she back here now?

"Morning, Simone. Thought you had left," I commented.

"I thought I had, but things change," she replied. "Dad's been brought over to take charge of the hotels Aunty has purchased. I was told that I should get my A-levels and consider university."

"Told by Miss Jenkins, no doubt?"

"Yes, she reamed me out over you getting injured then told me it was about time I settled down and got some qualifications. It seemed a good piece of advice, especially given the shit my boyfriend turned out to be."

"That bad?"

"No, that stupid. He went to hit me, so I broke his arm. His father was not happy with that. Aunty thought it would be a good idea if I was out of the way for a couple of years to let the heat die down."

I laughed. We chatted for a bit before class started. At the end of the class, I had a free period. I asked Simone how she was fixed.

"Free till one," she replied.

"Same here."

"Not surprised. With the exception of your vocational classes and French, I think we have the same timetable."

"I've dropped French," I informed her.


"Took the Institute's exam; had the final oral yesterday. If I pass that, it counts for more than one A-level."

"You shouldn't have any problem passing; you speak French like a native."

"Probably too much like one," I replied. I then suggested we go to Marge's Café for a coffee and snack. Even though the Hendersons were no longer running the refectory, there had been no improvement in the food, so most of the students still used Marge's for refreshments and meals.

On the way over there, I told her about slipping into Occitan during my oral exam. Simone laughed and told me she had done something similar at one time.

Over coffee and cake in Marge's, I found out that Simone was now living at Southmead Hall, a country-house hotel that I passed on my way into college.

"Aunty has told Dad to turn it into something. I think she wants it to be a five-star destination," Simone informed me.

"Can't see much call for a five-star hotel around here."

"That's why it has to become a destination hotel," Simone replied. "We have to offer something that makes it worthwhile for the customers to come out to us."

"So, what is that going to be?"

"Not sure yet. Dad's looking into possibilities."

While we were finishing our coffee and cake, I found out that her mother was French and her father a Thompson, and she was Neal's second cousin. I also found out that she was three years older than I was and had an International Baccalaureate.

"Why the hell are you doing A-levels, then?" I asked. "Surely you could have got in with your IB?"

"I could have got into a university with it but not to do the course I wanted. Dad had insisted I structure my IB towards the Arts, so I don't have enough science in it for the course I want to do."

"What's that?"

"A BSc in electrical engineering. Same as Neal is doing. By doing A-level maths and physics, I will improve my chances of getting in somewhere good."

What was clear by the time we had to return for classes was that Simone was definitely here to study. She was not attending college to look after me. When I mentioned it, she commented that it turned out I did not need looking after.

College was a bit odd all day. At first, I could not put a finger on it. Something was different, but I did not know what. It was Simone who pointed it out to me in the short break we had between maths and physics. How many sixteen-to-twenty-year olds had the George Medal?

I had forgotten about that. I had hoped all the fuss over me taking John Henderson down would have died down by now and been forgotten. It seemed that it was not to be. Fortunately, most of the attention was not overly overt. The problem was that I kept having this feeling that I was being watched all of the time.

Physics was Simone's last class of the day. I, however, had a session of woodwork to do. I got into the workshop early. I'd been there about ten minutes sorting my bench out when Miss Cooke, the tutor, came in.

"John, could I have a word with you in my office please?" She always called me John. I had told her that my name was Johnny, but she said that was a kids name and Jonathan was too long. I followed her into the office.

"Are you getting training anywhere else?" she asked, indicating that I should take a seat whilst she hung up her coat.

"I do some part-time work at a local boatyard."

"Which one?" She placed herself into the chair behind desk. It groaned slightly under her weight.

"The Hamden yard on High Marsh."

"That's run by Steve Johnson, isn't it?"


She sat thinking for a moment, the spoke, "I think I need to speak to Mr. Johnson."

"May I ask what this is about?"

"Yes, to be frank, John, you are wasting your time and my time on this course." My heart dropped at this information; I thought I was doing OK on the course. Miss Cooke had always seemed happy with my work; in fact, she had praised it a number of times.

"Now don't get me wrong," she continued. "There is nothing wrong with your work. In fact, it has all been very good. To be blunt about it, it is too good for what is demanded of you for this course. I have no doubt that you can easily pass the practical examinations. You've already passed the assessed work requirements for the course.

"To be totally honest, I can't both teach you at the level you need to be taught and teach the others on this course at the same time. Unfortunately, most of them are here because they have to be. They are on one youth-training programme or another and are doing this as it is a prescribed element in their training. They don't love it like you do. So, I have a suggestion to make."

"What is it?"

"That you drop this class. Oh, I am not suggesting you drop the course, just attending at the class. You will still have to take your practical exam in March and the theory exams in June, and I will keep you registered on the course, just marking it as attendance not required. The only problem would be that you do not currently have enough supervised hours to meet the qualification requirements.

"That's why I need to speak with Mr. Johnson. If he has the necessary qualifications and is prepared to sign off on the hours that you have worked at the yard on woodwork and joinery, then those hours can be included."

"I'm not sure how many hours I'll have," I pointed out. "A lot of the time I am just sweeping the workshops."

"There is nothing wrong with sweeping the workshops," Miss Cooke stated. "You can learn a lot if you keep your eyes open when sweeping a workshop. There's a lot that the old guys don't tell and ain't written in any book. The only way you can pick it up is to see them doing it. I learnt more sweeping the floor of the first workshop I apprenticed in than I ever did during my college classes."

Somehow, that made sense. There was a lot I had learnt watching Steve whilst I had been cleaning up.

"Now, John, do you have Mr. Johnson's number?"

I did and gave it her. She eased herself up out of the chair, which gave a groan of relief. Miss Cooke looked at it, then at me.

"Have a look at that chair and see if you can do anything about it; I think the joints need re-gluing." With that she left the office and went over to the phone in the workshop. I wondered for a moment why she had not used the phone in the office, then realised that the workshop phone had a direct outside line in case of emergencies. The office phone went through the college switchboard and was intended for internal calls.

With that understanding, I looked at the chair which had been complaining. It was a sack-back Windsor armchair. At a cursory inspection, there did not seem to be much wrong with it, except it was about two sizes too small for Miss Cooke. I did, though, pick it up and take it to my bench to give it a close inspection. It was a well-made chair, a piece of quality craftsmanship. Miss Cooke was right; there were a couple of the lower joints that needed re-gluing, so I took the chair legs apart, cleaned off the joints, then reassembled it, re-gluing all the joints, and clamped it up. That took me most of the two-hour class.

"Nicely done, John," Miss Cooke said, coming up behind me and giving me a shock. "I've spoken to Mr. Johnson, and he does have the required qualifications to sign off on your work and is happy to sign off for your supervised hours. I'll give you the forms that you can take for him to sign. He said he is due to see you tomorrow."

I acknowledged I would be seeing Steve the next day.

She then looked at the chair. "You've done a good job. Nice and tidy and you did what was required, nothing more and nothing less. A good piece of work. With a bit of luck, once the glue has set, it will last a good while longer."

I instinctively looked from the chair to Miss Cooke and back. Miss Cooke laughed. "I know, I'm far too large for it. Not much I can do about that, it's hormonal and I react badly to some required medication.

"The thing is, I made that chair over thirty years ago. It was my examination piece." I looked at the chair with a new respect.

I had to wait around for about twenty minutes after the class had finished to get the required paperwork. Fortunately, Dad was picking me up as he had been in Town this afternoon. I found him waiting for me in Marge's. He did not look happy.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Bernard had a cardiac arrest on the table; he's in intensive care," Dad replied. "They've advised the family that he may not make it."

I had totally forgotten that Uncle Bernard was having his operation today. As soon as we got home, I went up to my room and rang Joseph. He was upset but could not tell me anything; apparently, they had only allowed Aunty Debora in to see Uncle Bernard. Joseph had not even been allowed to go to the hospital.

I had problems getting to sleep, as I worried about Joseph. He was very close to his father, and I dreaded to think how he would cope if anything happened to Uncle Bernard. So, I spent the better part of the night tossing and turning in bed, then finally fell asleep at some early hour of the morning only to oversleep. I don't know if my alarm failed to go off or if it went off and I silenced it. Maybe I did not set it last night. One way or another, I badly overslept and was wakened on Thursday morning by Dad banging on my bedroom door, telling me that Mum was ready to go to college and take me in. He also told me it was raining — not a day to use my moped.

Actually, he was exaggerating somewhat. She was talking to Grandma about dinner when I got down to the kitchen some ten minutes later. Dad handed me a mug of coffee and a plate of toast, telling me to hurry up and eat my breakfast. I did.

Fortunately, I did not have a class first period so was able to go to Marge's and get a proper breakfast. The place was pretty crowded, but I managed to find a table. I had just placed my order when a lad came to the table and asked if he could take one of the spare seats. A quick glance around the café confirmed that there were no tables free. So, I told him to take it.

He was a good-looking lad. Late teens, I suspected, probably eighteen or nineteen. Definitely not English, unless he skis a lot, though the tan he had showed no goggle lines; I doubted it was from the slopes. He spoke with a soft voice and a definite foreign accent which I could not place. I thought it might be Spanish, but it did not sound right to me.

We introduced ourselves. His name was Antonio Montero. He was from Uruguay and was on an English-as-a-second-language course.

"I wish to go to university in England but need an English-language qualification to get in," he explained.

I commented that he spoke English very well. Antonio informed me that his maternal grandmother was English, and they frequently used the language at home. Although his spoken English was good, he did not have that much experience with writing or reading it. That explained a lot, but I found it surprising that he was studying at Southmead as most overseas students who are doing a course to get an English-language qualification for university go either to one of the London language schools or to a language school attached to the university they are applying to. Why would he come to Southmead College? He answered my question about this by informing me that he was staying with his uncle, who lived locally.

One of the girls came to take our order, I ordered the full English breakfast. Antonio was looking at the menu, puzzled. It seems that, although he was fluent in spoken English, he had no idea about English food. I advised him to try the full English. It did not take long to come. This time of day, I had no doubt that they had most of it prepared with the exception of the eggs. Antonio looked at it with astonishment.

"This is a breakfast?" he asked.


"But there is so much of it. How can you eat so much so early in the morning."

I told him to try it and then, whilst eating my own, explained to him that in the old days, it was only served in the big country houses. In fact, it was not really served as a breakfast but as an early-morning meal. People would have a light meal first thing upon rising, then go out to do whatever they needed to do first thing in the morning. Then they would come in, often about ten, after doing two or three hours of work, to have a meal. That was when the full English breakfast was traditionally served.

By the time we had finished the breakfast, it was getting on for the start of my first class. Antonio informed me that he did not have a class till eleven but that he needed to get to the library. We paid for our meals, and both walked over to the college. On the way over, I found myself agreeing to meet Antonio for lunch. I did point out that I would have a couple of people with me as I normally lunched with Mum and Marcia when possible.

My double maths that morning was boring. Simone, who was seated across from me, yawned at me when the tutor had his back to us. Why the tutor had to be so dull, I did not know. Fortunately, he was not our normal tutor, who was away this week and, we in the class could only hope, back next week. At the lunch break, Simone joined me as we left the class.

"How can he make differential equations so dull?" Simone asked as we walked down the corridor towards the carpark exit.

"Easy, when you don't understand it," I replied.

"You think he did not understand it?"

"Bloody certain. I've read about them in Dad's book, which is more informative and interesting."

Simone replied by saying she'd better get a copy of Dad's book. I told her I would bring one in for her tomorrow. I knew there were some publicity copies in Dad's study.

At lunch, we met up with Mum and Marcia, and we made our way over to Marge's. One only uses the refectory at the college if it was absolutely necessary. Full-time students tended to eat over at Marge's. Both Mum and Marcia already knew Simone. Mum expressed surprise that she was still in college, knowing that she had been placed there by Miss Jenkins to look after me.

"Surely, the threat has been removed?" Mum asked.

"It has regarding Johnny. I'm under instructions to get a qualification." Simone laughed.

"From your aunt, no doubt." Mum observed. Simone nodded.

When we got to Marge's, the place was fairly full. We did manage to grab the large round table in the corner, which seated six. Just after we sat down, Antonio came into the café. I waved him over to join us and introduced him to Mum, Marcia and Simone.

Once we had ordered our lunches, we started to chat about college and how the term was starting. Simone mentioned our boring maths tutor.

"Christ, don't mention him," Marcia stated. "I had him for first period explaining Boolean operators. Could have done better myself, and I don't know them. Hope Mr. Taunton comes back."

"Why shouldn't he?" Simone asked. "He's only on his honeymoon. He said he would be back next week."

Marcia then informed us that there were some staff cuts being made, and rumour had it that Mr. Taunton was one of those on the list to be cut.

"He'd better not be," Simone stated. "He's the best maths teacher I've ever had."

On that I had to agree.

Somehow — I am not certain how — we got to discussing our plans for the weekend. I really did not want to say anything about clearing out mother's house, so I just said I was going into Town to see my boyfriend. Antonio looked quite surprised when I said that. I don't know if it was the fact that I was gay or was so open about it.

After lunch we made our way back to the college and to the main vestibule. One thing you quickly learn at the college is to check your room assignments before each session; they can change. They had changed today. Not for me but for both Marcia and Mum. It seems their two o'clock class had not only been moved to another room but to another time.

"Blast!" Mum exclaimed. "That buggers things up."

I looked at the timetable board and saw what she meant. Her two o'clock class had been moved to two thirty and to a classroom in the annex, which was on a totally different site. She would not finish till four, and it would take her a good twenty minutes to get from the annex to here. I was relying on Mum for a lift home today as I knew Marcia had a late class and would not finish till five. The problem being that I was supposed to be meeting with Martin and Steve at four. I mentioned this to Mum.

"I know, Johnny. Not sure what we can do about it. Will probably have to bail out of the last half of the class."

"Where do you have to get to?" Simone asked.

"The Priory," I stated, knowing that Simone knew where it was; she had been there a few times to see Neal."

"I'm going into Dunford, so I can give you a lift," Simone stated.

"It's not taking you out of your way?" I asked.

"Slightly, but not that far," Simone replied. "Dad's got me covering reception at the Belmont from five to seven, so I have to go into Dunford. It's not that much longer to go in the back way and go past the Priory as to go down the bypass."

"In fact, it's shorter," Marcia stated. "It is about a mile less than using the bypass. It just takes longer because you can't drive so fast."

It was agreed that Simone would give me a lift back. In many ways it made life easier as Simone and I had the same class this afternoon: two hours of physics. That would mean we would both finish at the same time, so I would not have to hang around waiting for Mum to come from her class.

At least physics was interesting. We had our normal tutor. I am sure some of his demonstrations must have breached health and safety guidelines, but they did get the point he was trying to make across. Sometimes with a bang.

At the end of the class, Simone led the way to her car, which was parked in the carpark at the other side of the college from where Mum parked hers and where I parked my moped when I used it. It was something of a surprise to find that Simone was driving a BMW 4 Series convertible. I was sure she had not been driving it last year.

"A Christmas present from Daddy," she informed me, climbing into the car. "I think it was a bribe to persuade me to come over here."

I got into the passenger seat as she started it up. Some twenty minutes later we arrived at the Priory. Simone had not speeded the whole of the journey, but she had done it in a much quicker time than Mum or Marcia did in their cars. The 4 Series seemed much nippier and more able to cope with the narrow lanes and tight corners that formed the back road from Dunford to Southmead. Simone seemed capable of taking quite tight corners with little or no drop off in speed, a fact I commented on when we pulled into the yard at the Priory.

"I've done courses on highspeed and evasive driving," she laughed. "After going 'round the old Nürburgring a few times, you learn to take corners without losing momentum."

As it was a few minutes before four, and I knew Simone did not have to be at the Belmont till five, I invited her in for a tea. Dad and Lee were at the kitchen table, with papers strewn all over it. Dad informed me that Steve was running late and did not expect to be able to get there until quarter past, a fact I already knew. Steve had texted me with the information.

I introduced Simone to Dad and Lee, mentioning to Dad that I had promised Simone one of his maths books. He laughed and went to his study to get one. Lee just stood there, shaking hands with Simone. I noticed neither of them seemed to be too interested in letting go of the other's hand.

Whilst they stood there like a couple of star-crossed lovers, I poured a couple of mugs of tea. Fortunately, Dad had just made a pot. I put a mug down in front of Simone and drew her attention to it. She laughed, then sat down and added milk and sugar to her mug. Lee sat opposite her.

"So, what do you do here, Lee?" she asked. It occurred to me that Lee had not been here when all the trouble was going on, so Simone probably had not been briefed about him. I was fairly sure that she would have been briefed about the other members of the household.

"He is supposed to be sorting me out and keeping me in order," Dad said, walking back into the kitchen with a copy of his maths book in his hand. "But I suspect my brother is trying to pinch him to run his dojo."

Dad handed Simone the maths book. Simone wanted to pay for it, but Dad insisted it was one of the publisher's samples, so he could give it away.

Lee and Simone quickly got into discussing martial arts. Simone asked if it would be possible for her to use the dojo when it was set up. It seems that she had not been able to find a suitable dojo for practice in the Southmead area. It also turned out that she had studied under one of Uncle Ben's students.

Steve arrived about ten past four. Dad told Lee to see if he could sort out a timetable that worked, then suggested that Steve and I should move with him to the study. He left a message with Lee for Martin to come through to the study when he arrived. On the way to the office, Steve was apologising to Dad about being late. It seems that a delivery that he had booked for between two and three had been rescheduled without his consent to arrive between three and four. It had actually arrived at quarter to four.

Dad assured him that it was not a problem as Martin had not yet arrived. Martin did arrive about five minutes later, apologising for being late. Once we were all settled in the study, Martin got a pile of papers from his case.

"Well, there is good news and bad news," Martin explained.

"What's the bad news?" Steve asked.

"The family are contesting the will. To be more precise, George Hamden, Jr., is contesting the will. I don't think the other son is that bothered about it."

"Why?" Steve asked.

"Now, that is the good news," Martin informed him. "George Hamden, Sr., left you two legacies. The first is a piece of property known as High Marsh Nase. The second is thirty percent of the shares in the Hamden Yard."

"He's given me control?" Steve asked.

"Yes," Martin replied. "You've got control, and you have the High Marsh Nase, as well."

"What's the High Marsh Nase?" I asked.

"It's the Blackwater end of High Marsh, where it spreads out. Nase means nose," Steve told me.

"So, Steve does not need the trust to fund the legal action to enforce the contract?" Dad asked.

"No, he does not, Mike. However, he may need it to defend his interest in the will. George Hamden, Jr., seems to be taking the line that his father must have been unduly influenced to sign the original contract and was under undue influence, as well, when making the will."

"Will that work, Martin?" Steve asked.

"If he can prove undue influence on the one, then it will almost certainly work on the other. The thing is, I had a long chat with John Munroe after the reading of the will. It seems that old George fully expected his sons to try something. He has, therefore, left fairly detailed instructions on what the solicitors should do if the will is challenged. Part of it is that the cost of any defence of the will is to be taken from the proceeds of the sale of specific properties and shares. The Nase and the shares in the Hamden yard are specifically excluded from that list."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Well, Johnny," Martin replied. "The cost of defending a challenge to a will is, generally, borne by the estate of the deceased. As such, the executors, who have a legal duty to defend the will, will retrieve the costs across the whole of the estate, so each of the beneficiaries will be equally affected.

"However, in this case, George has put in specific instructions so that, in the event of the will being challenged, the cost of fighting the challenge will be charged against specific assets in the estate. In this case, assets left to George Hamden, Jr."

"Does he know?" Dad asked.

"Well, John did not read out the details during the reading of the will. George Jr. told him to jump the legal mumbo jumbo and get to the important stuff, so he did. All the beneficiaries get a copy of the will, and it is there in black and white for them.

"What is not there is that there are three older wills, which John Munroe has. They all show a specific pattern of intent. Originally, the yard was left to Freddy, but I understand he pre-deceased George by some years. After you joined the yard, Steve, George made a new will instructing that you be offered first refusal to buy the yard at an independent valuation. It also specified that the estate was to 'loan' you the funds to buy the yard on an interest-free loan to be paid back over fifteen years. Then, a couple of years later, he added a codicil to the effect that you were to be offered any shares you did not own in the yard up to a maximum of forty-five percent of the shares in the yard at five thousand a share.

"In February last year, he went in again and had a new will written. This one gave you the thirty percent of the shares. It also left you the Nase. Apparently, George only got ownership of it eighteen months ago. There is a letter which he has signed, and the signature was witnessed by the solicitors, stating why he was taking this course of action.

"In it, he states that none of his living sons have any interest in the yard. Indeed, they have expressed an intent to close it down and use it to build executive houses on. George goes on to state that he is opposed to such a course of action and believes it is vital that a traditional boat yard continue to operate on High Marsh. By giving Steve control of the yard, he is ensuring this will happen. By giving Steve the Nase, he is providing Steve with the space to expand operations in the manner that they had discussed in the past. He also states why he had changed his will. George had been given a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in January. He had decided to refuse treatment. Apparently, his doctor had told him that it would extend his life a few months, but it would be fairly miserable for a man of his age.

"Given the history of the wills and the pattern in them to deny ownership of the yard to the elder sons, together with the contents of the letter, I think there is very little chance that George Jr. being able to win any case. Anyway, even if he did, all that would do would be to invalidate the existing will; it would then be replaced by the earlier will. George Jr. would still not get the yard. The thing is, he does not know about the earlier wills or the letter and will not until Munroe and Claymore have to disclose them as part of the proceedings. As soon as it appears, I suspect that Broden and Dunstar will advise him to drop his action."

"Will he?" Steve asked.

"No way of telling," Martin replied. "However, he would be an idiot if he proceeded."

"That's what worries me," Steve stated. "The man is an idiot."

"What makes you say that?" Dad asked.

"The idea of building executive homes on High Marsh. It's mad."

"I don't know, Steve, executive homes with a view of the Blackwater? I suspect there would be a demand for them," Dad said.

"Probably, if they were ever built, but they won't be."

"Why not?" I asked Steve.

"They would never get planning permission. The marsh is a designated area of special scientific interest and a designated wetland. The only reason the yards are allowed to be there is that they were there before the designations. It gives us an historic status. If it wasn't for that, we would have to pack up. There is no way that any permission would be given for any new construction along there."

"There is one other thing in the letter that George left," Martin informed us. "He says that it was his intention to let Steve buy the yard in order to preserve the yard. George goes on to say that he had intended to give the yard to Steve, but Steve had insisted on buying it."

"Is that true, Steve?" Dad asked.

"He never actually said he would give me the yard. He hinted at it a couple of times, but I told him not to consider it; I would find some way to buy it off him. That's when he came up with this idea of me buying it bit by bit."

"You got legal advice over it?" Martin asked.

"Oh, yes, George insisted I go to a lawyer about it," Steve stated.

"Which firm did you go to for the advice?" Martin inquired.

"It wasn't a firm; it was a friend of Peter's. Then Peter's half-sister — she was a barrister — looked over everything for me."

"You said 'was a barrister'?" Martin observed.

"Yes, she retired from the bar to teach law, but she's a judge now."

"What's her name?"

"Susan Peatry," Steve replied.

"Lady Justice Peatry?" Martin enquired.


Martin laughed. Dad asked what was so funny. It seemed that Lady Justice Peatry had written one of the defining books in this area of law, and there were a couple of important judgements that she had decided in this area.

Martin and Dad discussed a number of issues, but at the end, the decision was taken that the trust would still fund Steve's legal expenses if it was necessary. It was also agreed that it should attempt to buy the remaining forty percent of the shares in the yard for the trust, so that I would have an interest.

"You know it makes sense now," I stated.

"What does?" Dad asked.

"George Hamden buying the Peters yard. If they hold the freehold of the other yards, they can get them out at renewal of the leases. The only real problem they would face would be access, but the landing for the chain ferry is level with the end of the Peters yard. If they put a bridge in there, they could get what? Ten or twelve executive waterfront houses down there with private moorings. They must be worth around one and a half million each."

"More like two around here," Steve stated.

"It's a pity we can't build anything on the Nase," I stated.

"Don't see why we can't," Steve replied.

"You said they would not get planning permission," I pointed out.

"Yes, for new houses, but there is nothing to stop one rebuilding what used to be there. The foundations are still there."

"What for?" Dad asked.

"It was the Elmchurch yard and the Hall. Burnt down in the late 1980s, and the family never rebuilt it. Belonged to George's great aunt. Her husband, an Elmchurch, was killed in the fire, and, according to George, she never had an interest in rebuilding the yard. Had too many bad memories for her."

After that we chatted about things a bit more, then Steve left. Martin wanted to discuss Saturday with us. He confirmed that the house was no longer a crime scene and told us he would meet with us at the house at ten-thirty. That dealt with, Martin said he had to go; he was taking Marcia to the cinema.

"Who's babysitting?" I asked.

"Bribed Lee," Martin replied with a laugh.

After he left, Dad and I sat in the study discussing the implications of what both Steve and Martin had said. Dad wondered if there might be any chance of buying some of the rest of High Marsh if it became impossible for the Hamdens to proceed with their plans. I wondered why he would want to do it.

"Johnny, if you are going to build the type of yachts that you've been talking about, you are going to need a lot more space than what you have got at Steve's yard."

On that, he was right.

Both Trevor and Arthur joined us for dinner, so it was served in the dining room. Granddad told us that Uncles Phil and Ben were coming up on Friday and would taking Grandma and Granddad up to Manston on Saturday.

"The boys are going to miss you in the garden," Mum said.

"Nowt much left to do at the moment," Granddad replied. "Them there lads have really worked hard this last two weeks. Now all they have to do is keep on top of things till spring. Would like to come down and give them a hand then; reckon they'll need it about the second week of March."

"You know, Jack, that you and Flora are always welcome to come and stay," Dad stated.

"Might well take 'ou up on that, lad, might well."

Trevor said that he thought he and Arthur should move back into the flat. There was a bit of discussion about that. Mum was not sure that Trevor should be on his own during the day in the flat. However, Trevor did point out that once my grandparents had gone home, he would be on his own in the house at least a couple of days a week, what with Dad going into Town for recordings or filming and Mum and I both being at college.

After dinner I went up to my room to do a couple of assignments. I was a bit surprised when I went to close my bedroom curtains to notice Simone's BMW in the yard. It was parked outside the door to Marcia's flat.

Friday morning, I had a chance to ask Simone about her car being in the yard Thursday night. She informed me that she had been helping Lee with the babysitting. I was not sure that either Tariq or JayDee would be very happy with that description of their activities. Then Simone went on to inform me that she had been talking with Lee about getting some sort of dojo set up. It appears that they both had studied the same style of martial arts, though different disciplines within the style.

All this information was passed over to me whilst we were waiting for the maths class to start. We waited in the expectation that anything would be better than what we got yesterday. In that we were sorely disappointed.

After lunch I had a single period of physics; then I was free for the weekend. I got out of college just after three. Fortunately, the bus stop for Southminster is just outside the college gates. I managed to get on the three-ten bus, which meant I got the earlier train from Southminster and was at Joseph's just before five.

"We're on our own this evening," Joseph informed me as he pulled me into a tight hug as I entered the house. He had seen me walking up the road and had the front door open by time I got to it.

"Your mother's at the hospital?" I asked. Joseph nodded in reply. "How's your father?"

"He's a bit better. They've moved him from intensive care to a high-dependency bed. Mother phoned just after four and said that if there are no complications overnight, they will move him to a normal room tomorrow; then I can visit."

"You haven't visited?"

"No, not yet. They have very restricted visiting regime in the ICU."

Joseph informed me that his mother had left some money for us to get a meal. Apparently, she was not trusting Joseph to cook something for us. We discussed options and decided on fish and chips from the nearby chip shop. Over our meal we discussed how things were going with our studies. I complained a lot about the temporary maths teacher we had. I also told him that I suspected a possible romance developing between Simone and Lee.

Joseph postulated that they might just be interested in being training partners as they had both studied in the same style of martial arts. I had to admit that it was a definite possibility, but I somehow doubted it. He had not seen how they had looked at each other when they first met.

After we had consumed our fish and chips, we raided the freezer for a tub of cherry ice cream. I don't know where Aunty Debora gets it from, but the cherry ice cream she gets it totally out of this world. Between the two of us, Joseph and I managed to consume a whole six-hundred-gram tub, which normally would serve at least four. We had just finished clearing up after our feast when Aunt Debora got home.

Joseph mentioned that she was home early, it not quite being seven thirty. He had not expected her back till nearly ten. Visiting finished at nine. Aunt Debora explained that his father had been in some pain, so the staff had upped his pain meds. That had resulted in him drifting off to sleep, and the staff had advised her he was unlikely to wake up before the morning.

"Anyway, I'd been there for thirty-six hours and felt I needed to get a shower and a change of clothes." She looked at the change on the kitchen table from the money she had left for a meal. Then she picked it up and handed it to Joseph suggesting that we should go down to the Everyman Cinema and see what was on, a suggestion we followed.

It had gone eleven when we got back to the house. All was in darkness, so we presumed that Aunt Debora had gone to bed. As a result, we tried to be as quiet as we could, making our way to Joseph's room. Once there, we showered together and then got into bed. Joseph moved himself on top of me, then kissed me.

"Look, Johnny, I'm not sure if I can come to the house with you in the morning."

"Why not?"

"Well, if Dad's moved to a normal room tomorrow, I think I really need to go in with Mother to visit him."

That I could understand. I hugged Joseph, letting him know that I understood, then kissed him. After a lot more kissing and some play, we eventually got to sleep, sometime the wrong side of midnight.

It was gone eight by the time we got down to the kitchen on Saturday morning. Aunt Debora was sitting at the table reading the paper and sipping on a mug of tea. She told us to help ourselves to what we wanted.

"Any news?" Joseph asked.

"Plenty," she replied. "You can have the paper when I have finished it."

"I meant about Dad."

"Oh, you should have said," she laughed. "I phoned just before you came down. He's had a good night, and they are expecting to move him into a normal room after the doctor has done her rounds. They suggested we not go in till after eleven."

"Sorry, Johnny," Joseph said. "I'd better go in with mother."

"It's OK," I replied. "You need to see your father."

"What were you planning on doing?" Aunt Debora asked.

"I was going with Johnny to help clear his mother's house."

Aunt Debora nodded, then said she thought Uncle Bernard would like to see Joseph. That was something I could understand, but I would have liked Joseph there when I went through the house.

Shortly after eight-thirty, I got a text from Dad saying they were setting out for the house and should be there about ten. He said he had Lee with him. The agreed time to meet Martin, who was getting the key, was ten-thirty. However, I did not need Martin to let me in; I still had my own key to the house on my key ring. As soon as breakfast was finished, I helped Joseph clean up, told him I would see him this afternoon, and departed for the tube station for the trip to Highbury and Islington.

Although mother had liked to claim that the house was in Highbury and Islington — and that was the postcode for it — it was far closer to Finsbury Park. In actual fact, the road that formed the corner that the house stood on had a Finsbury Park postcode. The house was a fairly substantial, late-Georgian building. At least, I think it was late Georgian. If Joseph had been with me, he could have told me.

The house stood on a corner, the main frontage facing a quiet square. On the road running along the side of the house were a couple of garages with a mews apartment over them. No doubt when the place had been built, they had been the coach house and stables. From what Dad had told me, it had been a language school before they had bought it and needed a lot of work done to turn it back into a family house. It seems that Dad's father had arranged for them to get it.

It is strange. I think of Jack and Flora as being my grandparents, but I never think of Dad's parents as my grandparents. Probably because I'd never met them.

Anyway, Dad's father arranged for them to get the property. I do not know the details, but from what Dad has said, they got it for a very good price, and grandfather put down a big wad of money as the deposit. As a result, the mortgage for the place was low enough that Dad and my mother could pay it off. Back then, of course, Dad had not been freelance; he had been a staff writer at a specialist publisher up the road from the house in Stoke Newington.

It was about quarter to ten when I got to the house. By then, the weather had changed and there was a light drizzle falling. Not wanting to get soaked waiting for Martin, I let myself in using my key. The door had only just opened up when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Now, now, young man, just what are you up to?" a voice from behind said. I turned my head to see a uniformed police officer standing behind me.

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