Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 11

It was a cold and damp Saturday morning, though the rain of yesterday had mostly stopped. The emphasis there was on mostly; every now and again a short, sharp shower would fall. Joseph was up at some ridiculous hour, telling me to get a move on; otherwise, we would miss the bargains. I hated to tell him there had been no bargains on Portobello Road since the end of the Sixties. That's when it turned into a tourist trap.

I managed to delay Joseph long enough to get a cup of coffee and some toast before he dragged me out of a comfortable, warm house into the cold and damp of a January morning in London. Worse, it was still dark.

It was still dark when we got to the top of Portobello Road. What's the point of being on Portobello Road in the dark? Nobody can see you strut your way down the length of the market. Unfortunately, the importance of this activity seemed to be totally lost on Joseph. He seemed to be far more interested in what the stalls were selling.

We had only gone a little way down the market when a hand clamped onto my arse. A familiar voice sounded in my ear. "Slumming it, are you, Johnny?"

I knew the voice belonged to Jimmy the Creep, I had run across him often enough when I had bunked off from school and come up into Town. Jimmy ran a stable of male escorts out of a house in Notting Hill. It was said he also had a stable of younger boys he ran from a pad in Chelsea. A couple of times in the past he had tried to get me to work for him.

"Last I heard you were at some posh restaurant in Chinatown with that queer actor. He your boyfriend now?"

"No! I am," Joseph said. "Now, get your hands off my property."

I felt Jimmy turn behind me. I stepped away, looking to see Joseph, who is on the small size for a fifteen-year-old, standing facing Jimmy, who is the best part of six foot and some.

"Or what?" Jimmy asked.

"I'll break every bone in your body." Jimmy started to laugh.

"And he can, Jimmy," I heard Neal say. Looking around, I saw Neal standing just beyond Joseph. "He trains with Aunty."

"Sorry, Mr. Thompson," Jimmy stuttered. "It's just I knew Johnny—"

"I've no doubt you knew my business partner from before, Jimmy; now you can forget him. Right?"

"Right, Mr. Thompson." With that Jimmy scarpered off into crowd of tourists filling the market.

"You know, Neal," I said, "I could have dealt with Jimmy. I have in the past."

"I've no doubt you could, Johnny, but sometimes it's nice to put the fear of God into the peasants." Neal laughed.

"Anyway, Neal, what are you doing here?" I asked.

"Joseph texted me to say you were coming. Thought I would join you."

"Any particular reason?"

"Need to talk. How about a coffee and a bacon butty?" To me, that sounded good. Not sure that Joseph was so keen, though the mention of bacon got his interest. Ten minutes later we were in a small café on a side street, well away from the market, though Neal assured me that this place was used by a lot of the traders, assurance that the food was good and the prices reasonable.

I glanced at the menu scrawled on the chalkboard over the counter and decided what I was going to have: the full English breakfast. Joseph said he was having the same. Neal told us to grab a table; he would order. With that, he joined the queue at the counter; Joseph and I set off in search of a table. We found one near the back of the café. A couple of minutes later, Neal joined us and placed a wooden spoon with the number ten in red characters painted on its bowl. He had no sooner sat down than a girl brought over three steaming mugs of tea. She placed them on the table.

"Anything else, Mr. Thompson?"

"No, Janet, thank you."

"One of Auntie's places?" Joseph asked.

"No, one of mine — the property, that is. The café belongs to Barry; that's him behind the counter. His son and I were at the same school. We were mates, weren't we. So, when some new people bought the building and started to hike the rents up to get Barry out, I got a friend to have a word with them. After that, they were happy to sell. I made sure they did not lose out on the deal, but they did not make what they expected."

"What do you own?" I asked.

"This place, the two shops on either side and eighteen flats above. Nice little earner. Even at what I had to pay, I'm making a good eight percent on it."

"How did you get the money to buy it?" Joseph asked.

"Simple. I got a mortgage on the places I've got down off Gloucester Road. Dad gave me them for my sixteenth birthday."

"I thought you would have just asked your Aunty for some," I said.

"Oh no, that wouldn't be proper," Neal replied. "Aunty will help where it is necessary, but she does expect us to have our own businesses, which we have to build up ourselves. This way, I can show that the funding of the purchase came from legitimate sources and that I have financed it from revenue earned. The fact that the mortgage came from a bank that Aunty has an interest in is immaterial.

"Anyway, Johnny, there is something I need to know."

"What, and why?" I asked.

"How Trevor is? I need to know because Arthur does not appear to be coping too well. The boy's a genius when it comes to computer systems, but at the moment, he seems very distracted. If Arthur is distracted, that is not good for business, and we both have an interest in Arthur's business."

I spent the next five minutes or so giving Neal a rundown on what I knew regarding Trevor. It seems that I knew a lot more than Neal did. At the end, I finished up saying, "The thing is, Trevor thinks he has blown things. He does not think he is going to get another acting part, but he does not know anything else that he can do."

"Shit!" exclaimed Neal. "That's what I was afraid of."


"It's not only Arthur that Aunty is concerned about. She has a major interest in Trevor."

"How?" I asked.

"Who do you think is financing The University Flying Club?"

Like an old lock in which a key was finally being turned, I suddenly felt things falling into place.

Our breakfasts arrived before I could ask the question I was dying to ask. Once we had taken our initial bites out of them, I asked it. "Who wrote The University Flying Club?"

"My cousin Mark, though he used a nom de plume."

We talked about the proposed film, Trevor's role in it, and other things concerning Trevor or Arthur for the next ten minutes whilst we consumed our breakfasts.

Once we had all finished our meals, Neal asked me, "What's the best thing that could happen for Trevor now?"

"He needs a complete break from things, both he and Arthur. He also needs something to boost his confidence."

Neal nodded, then thought for a moment. "Do you think he would fancy a few weeks in Morocco? A couple of weeks of February and a bit of March."

"It's winter. Who wouldn't?" I replied.

Neal put a handful of pound coins on the table as a tip, then stood up to leave. Joseph and I went out with him. As we were leaving the man behind the counter asked, "Everything satisfactory, Mr. Thompson?"

"As always, Barry, as always," Neal replied. I noticed a number of people look at Neal.

Once outside, Neal said he had to get off over to Stratford. He told us to go off and enjoy the market. As we started back toward Portobello Road, Neal called out. "Johnny, don't strut." Joseph laughed.

Back at the market I asked Joseph why he had texted Neal to tell him where we were?

"I bumped into him on Wednesday, and he said he wanted to talk with you."

"How did you manage to bump into Neal?"

"Went over to Uxbridge to train. Uncle Ben was teaching. Miss Jenkins was there. Neal came to pick her up after training, and he offered me a lift home."

So simple, so easy. Yet there was something missing. Neal had my number. If he wanted to speak with me, he could have texted or phoned me and made an arrangement. No, Neal wanted to meet me but did not want people to know. He wanted no trace of the contact.

Joseph kept flitting from stall to stall as we made our way down the length of the market. He would go up to a stall and scan it. Sometimes, that was all he did; he would just turn away and move onto the next stall. At other times, he would stand there, looking at stuff. Occasionally, he would ask the stall holder to unlock a display case so he could examine something closely.

"What are you looking for?" I asked when we were about a third of the way down the market.

"I don't know, but I will know it when I see it."

"What is it?"

"Birthday present for mother," Joseph stated. "It's her birthday a week on Thursday."

"The twelfth," I stated.

Joseph looked at me with some admiration. "You worked that out quickly."

It never occurred to me that I needed to work out what a date was. I just knew instinctively what date a day in the future or the past was.

We went a bit further down the market. Suddenly, it was me standing, looking at a stall. There was a set of woodworking tools on it. Old tools but very well kept. I picked one up and felt how it sat in my hands. If felt…well, it felt right, as if it had been made for me.

"Careful with that lad, its sharp," the stallholder said. He was standing at the end of the stall.

"So, it should be," I responded.

"Know what it is?" his voice had a hint of sarcasm in it.

"Yes, it's a draw knife. You've got any more tools of this type?" I indicated the collection of six or seven wooden-handled tools that lay on his stall. The other stuff he had was all modern. At least, post-war.

"Yea, there's a box of them." He stepped out in front of his stall, lifted the cloth that covered the stall and hung down in front, and pulled out a wooden box with rope handles. "Got these from a house clearance last week. Family was getting rid of everything the old chap had. Most of it was junk, but there were a few good pieces."

The moment I saw the box, I did not need to look inside it. I knew I had to have it and its contents. It was a finely made wooden toolbox with rope handles. The top was inlaid with the name of its owner: George Hamden.

"How much for the lot, the tools on the stall and what's in the box?" I asked.

"You've not looked in the box," the stall holder reminded me.

"Don't need to; these were George Hamden's tools, and I work in the yard his uncle founded. I know what quality they will be."

The stall holder named a price, which was well above anything that they were worth or what I could afford to pay.

"Come off it. Doubt you paid a hen for it. I'll give you a score."

"You're out to beggar me? If I took that, the wife 'n kids be out on the street in no time. Give me a monkey and you can have the lot; I'll even deliver it."

Five hundred quid. Way more than what they were worth but a good starting point for our discussion. I glanced at the man's hands, there was a ring on the little finger of his left hand.

"What wife and kids? No woman would look at you or you at the woman. I'll give you a ton."

He laughed. "Make it three and I'll think about it."

"Two and you get it delivered before two," I stated.

"Two and a bullseye, and I'll get it delivered before two, if it's in Town." I nodded to confirm it was.

"One fifty now and the balance on delivery," I said.

"Done." We shook hands on it. I got my wallet out and pulled out some notes. It was lucky that I had gone to the cash machine on our way here. I counted out one fifty and handed it over, then gave him Bernard's address to deliver to. Told him to get it there between one and two. I knew we would be back by then.

The stall holder wrote me a receipt for what I had paid. I looked around for Joseph. He was standing at the edge of a group of people who had been listening to us haggle. I went over to him.

"What you got?" he asked.

"A set of boatbuilders tools. They used to belong to the man who set up the yard that Steve runs. Found anything?"

"Yes, there's a pendant on the stall across there," he stated, pointing at a stall a bit further down and on the other side of the road. "It a bit more than I've got, though, can you haggle for me?"

"What've you got?"

"Two hundred."

Joseph guided me across to the stall, I saw the pendant immediately: a cluster of red stones around what looked like an aquamarine. It looked nice. The ticket on it said two hundred and fifty, which was wrong. I knew that, if it was what it appeared to be, the ticket price should be four or even five times that, if not more. I nudged Joseph and led the way back up the market.

"Where're we going?" he asked.

"To get something that we need."

I had noticed a stall near the top when we came in that was selling drug paraphernalia, bongs, scales and those sorts of things. It also had some magnifiers on it. I was back at the stall with the pendant ten minutes later, this time with a loupe and a digital scale.

Joseph asked if we could look at the pendant. Once he had convinced the stall holder, a middle-aged woman that we had the funds if we wanted to buy it, she unlocked the case it was in and took it out, handing it to Joseph. Joseph looked at it for a bit then handed it to me.

"It's Russian," the stall holder said as I pulled out my loupe to examine it. "Late 19th or early 20th Century. There are seven rubies surrounding a large aquamarine."

"More likely Taiwanese 1970, at a guess," I commented, angling the stone so they caught the weak winter sunlight.

"Most certainly not!" the stall holder exclaimed, reaching to take the pendant from me. I handed it to her. I also offered her the use of my loupe.

"If you look, you can see the growth lines in the rubies; they're synthetics and not that high a quality, at that. You can make out the striation lines even with this loupe."

"He's got you there, Amanda," the man at the next stall said.

Amanda sagged somewhat. "I never bloody checked. The marks are worn, but I could see they were Russian."

I did not believe her. No dealer would buy something like that without first checking the stones.

"We'll give you fifty for it." I had expected her to haggle, but she just nodded. Joseph did the deal. Given that she did not haggle over it, I suspected that she probably had not checked. More likely picked it up as part of a job lot.

Having got what we wanted, we made our way through the rest of the market fairly quickly. On our way to the tube station, we dropped in at a coffee shop and got a couple of hot chocolates and some cakes. Sitting at a table near the window, Joseph asked me if he had wasted his money on the pendant, given that the stones were fake.

"They're not fakes, Joseph. They are synthetics, and only the rubies; the aquamarine is probably original. Not worth replacing."

"What do you mean 'replacing'?"

"The pendant itself is Russian, though the marks are worn. It is Art Nouveau style, so that means sometime around the turn of the last century — 1890 to 1910, roughly. Certainly, before the First World War. It's a nice piece of jewellery, but it is not of the first rank in manufacture. Definitely not Fabergé or another St. Petersburg manufacturer. More likely a provincial-made piece, maybe Moscow.

"When it was made, it almost certainly had real rubies in it. They may have been garnets, but I can't think why anybody would swap out garnets. In the 1970s, when gem-quality synthetics became a lot more common and a lot cheaper, unscrupulous dealers would buy up old pieces, remove the genuine stones from them and replace them with synthetics. That way, they could sell the pieces onwards at a decent price. Most people presumed that because they were old, the stones had to be natural. The dealers could then sell the genuine stones separately."

"How do you know this?" Joseph asked.

"Me mate Karl. He was at the last prep school I went to and for a year at my first public school. Used to come home with him most weekends. Mother did not want me at home, so I came back to Town with Karl. His father's a dealer down Hatton Garden. Mostly gold and silver but does stones as well. Taught me a lot about the subject when he wasn't fucking me."

"He used to fuck you?"

"Yes, he loved to watch me fuck his son, then he would fuck me."

"You should go to the police about him?" Joseph stated.

"Why? He's a good man. Never made me do anything I did not want to do. He always made sure that I was well and that I had some cash to buy stuff at school. He cared about me a damned sight more than my mother did, or anybody else who was around at the time."

"But he was using you," Joseph stated.

"As was just about everybody else who was around me," I said. "At least Karl's father was bothered enough to take an interest in me. That's more than I can say for most of the men I knew around then."

Joseph shook his head and finished his mug of chocolate.

"How come you knew that Jimmy character?" Joseph asked.

I thought about it for a few moments before answering. Was not sure how much to tell Joseph, then I decided I would tell him the lot.

"Look Joseph, Karl and I used to bunk off school at times, we'd come up to Town on the Friday morning rather than wait till school was out Friday afternoon."

"You could get away with that?"

"Occasionally," I replied. "Not too often. We would hang around the market, Fridays is one of the best days for it. Sometimes we got picked up by men who wanted a blowjob and would pay for it. Jimmy saw what was going on and wanted us to work for him."

"But you could have been in a real mess if you had been picked up by the police doing that," Joseph pointed out.

"Of course," I laughed.

"But what would your mother have said?"

"That Joseph was the whole point of doing it."

Joseph looked at me for a bit in disbelief, then sighed and informed me that he wanted another mug of chocolate.

It was nearly one when we got back to Uncle Bernard's. Mum and Dad were still out, though Uncle Bernard assured me they were on their way back. Apparently, Mum wanted something to wear for the theatre this evening.

"That's going to cost Dad," I commented.

Joseph showed Uncle Bernard the pendant he had got for his mother.

"Nice. I guess the stones are synthetic."

"The rubies are; I think the aquamarine is probably original," I said.

"What makes you think that?" Uncle Bernard asked.

"First, it probably would not have been worth swapping. After all, aquamarine is only semi-precious. Then, there is the dirt under the mount. I suspect that has not been disturbed since the piece was made."

"Good point, Johnny. Joseph, why don't you take it into Goldenstein's on Monday, and have it cleaned up? They're not far from your school, so you could drop it in on your way home."

Joseph agreed that he would. I told Uncle Bernard about the expected delivery of the toolbox.

"Well, you can carry it in when it comes. I'm not allowed to lift anything heavy for twelve weeks."

Just after one, the doorbell rang. Joseph went to answer it, then he called me that it was the delivery. I went, paid the outstanding amount and, with Joseph's help, carried the toolbox into the house. Joseph suggested we take it straight through to the garage and put it in Dad's car. Dad had left the keys in case it had to be moved, so we did just that.

Dad got back from shopping with Mum. He was carrying a couple of bags with the name of Oxford Street stores on them.

"Expensive morning?" I asked.

"Actually, cheaper than I expected," Dad replied.

"I'll remember that," Mum commented.

I told Dad about the toolbox and tools. He went out to the car to look at them with me.

"A nice set," Dad commented. "You grandfather will be jealous."

"Well, he can use them when he is down. Any news on my workshop?"

"Spoke to Matt yesterday," Dad informed me. "He says that the rest of Tyler's and my offices will be ready by the end of next week. As your workshop is part of the same block of work as my offices, I think it should be about the same. I'll give him a call tomorrow and check."

That made sense. The one thing you could be sure of was that Matt would be in the Anchor on a Sunday lunchtime. I mentioned this fact to Dad, who laughed in confirmation.

Between us, Joseph and I had sorted out a light lunch for all of us. It had been agreed that we would be going out for dinner before the show, so none of us wanted a full lunch. Especially not Joseph and me. After all, we had partaken of a full English, then got cake later at the coffee shop.

As we were sorting lunch, Joseph asked me if I really needed him to come and look at the Golders Green apartment with us.

"Not really, why? I thought you would like to see the place."

"I would, Johnny, but I've got a ton of homework to get through; it's building up this term."

That I could understand. I had experienced the same this time last year, though, of course, being at boarding school, it was not homework; it was prep. This was Joseph's last full term before GCSEs. I told him I understood the problem.

"Actually, Johnny, I've been meaning to talk to you about us seeing each other every weekend. I'm not sure it's a good idea with the amount of schoolwork I'm getting."

Surprisingly, much as I did not like the idea of cutting back on our time together, I could understand where Joseph was coming from. I had no doubt that I would be in a similar situation this time next year when I had the runup to my A-levels. We talked about it whilst we prepared lunch. By the time we called the adults into the kitchen for lunch, we had reached an agreement.

Joseph proceeded to tell the adults what we had agreed. I would still come up to London twice a month to see Joseph but would come up on Saturday morning, not Friday night. Also, I would go home on the Sunday morning. That would leave Joseph free to study Friday night and most of Sunday. It also meant that he would get at least one clear day of no studying, to give him a break.

A similar structure would apply to the weekends when Joseph came down to the Priory. The only difference being that he would stay most of Sunday, going back either late afternoon or early evening. This was mostly dictated by the train timetable. We had also agreed that Joseph would only come down one weekend a month.

"Eminently sensible," Uncle Bernard pronounced once we had outlined our plans. "I was going to have a word with you, Joseph, about things as I was worried about your workload at school. However, you seem to have dealt with it on your own, which is always the better way."

I must say I was not very happy with the idea of spending less time with Joseph, but I could see the sense in it. In a way, doing well this year at school was far more important for him than getting his A-levels in a couple of years. He had defied his grandfather in moving schools. Now he had to show it had been the right thing.

Just after quarter to three, Dad, Mum and I set off to walk down to Golders Green and the flat that was to be their main domicile for the next three years if everything worked out as planned. Although cold outside, it was dry, and the walk was not far — less than a mile.

When we got to Golders Green Road, Dad led us to a door between two shops. He pressed the bell at the side of the door. A voice on the intercom asked, "Is that you, Mike?" Dad confirmed it was. There was a click, followed by the instruction to come on up. Dad led the way into a short hall leading to a set of stairs.

As we were climbing the stairs, the door at the top was opened by a man who looked about Uncle Ben's age. Dad introduced him as Bill.

Beyond the door was an open-plan kitchen/dinner space with an archway that led to a living area. From the kitchen/dinner area, a set of double patio doors led out to a balcony, from which steps led down to the garden.

Bill told us to look around. He told Dad that Janet was out having her hair done. He said she was supposed to be back by now but had not arrived. Dad led Mum and me through the living room and up the stairs that led off it. At the top, the stairs opened onto a landing, off which ran a passageway. There were two doors on the left, each of which led to a bedroom. You could probably get a double in them, but it would be a tight squeeze. The door on the other side led to a larger bedroom, which I assumed had been for my grandparents.

Mum looked around the floor, then asked the question which I had been puzzling me: "Where's the bathroom?"

"Downstairs, off the kitchen," Dad replied. He then led the way to the stairs that led up from the landing. At the top of the stairs was another door, which was locked. Surprisingly Dad had the key for it on his key ring. It took us into an attic, piled with boxes. There were two dormer windows, looking out to the back.

"What's this lot?" Mum asked.

"Dad's old records and family papers. We never got around to sorting them out when Dad retired. Just left them here and locked them up."

"Well, if we're going to use this place, something will have to be done about them."

"I'll get them moved to the Priory. Lee can have a go at sorting them," Dad told Mum.

"Does he know?" I asked.

"No, and you're not to tell him," Dad stated.

The attic was a proper attic, not a loft space that was floored over. The walls, front and back, rose up a good four feet before the roof started to slope in.

"What are you thinking for up here?" I asked. "A master suite?"

"No, I thought we could turn the end front bedroom on the floor below into a bathroom for the back bedroom, making that into a master suite. We could put two bedrooms and a bathroom up here."

"How about two bedrooms with en-suite shower rooms?" I asked.

"Possible, will have to talk to Matt about it," Dad said.

"Be a bit of a drag for Matt to bring his crew into Town," Mum pointed out.

"Wasn't thinking of him doing the work. Will talk to Neal about finding someone local. No, I thought I would get Matt to do the redesign. Maybe Joseph could help him."

"I think Joseph has enough on his plate at the moment with GCSEs," I pointed out.

"Point taken. So, what do you think? Could we live here?" Dad asked.

"I think so," Mum stated. "Though the open plan will have to go. Can't stand cooking smells drifting through my living space."

Dad agreed. We spent a bit of time discussing how things could be laid out, then went back downstairs. There was a woman in the kitchen when we got there. She was introduced to us as Janet. Dad clearly knew her.

"Mike," Bill said, the moment the introductions were over, "you said that you would let us move out early without penalty if something came up for us."

"Yes, I did. Has something come up?" Dad asked.

"Yes, your brother has confirmed that he is turning the Rickyard complex at Manston into a CGI production facility. It'll have three times the space we have in Chiswick, and that is just using the two barns and the cowshed. If we take over the rest of the complex, there is that much again. Anyway, he has put me in charge of the development of the new facility."

"Congratulations. I presume you will be moving up to Manston."

"Yes, we went up last week to look at the place. Phil wants me on site from the start of April at the latest to supervise the redevelopment of the barns and cowshed. The earlier we can get up there the better. Janet can supervise her team from up there as easily as she can from down here, though she might have to come down for the odd meeting.

"Last Saturday, when we were looking around the local villages for property, we found a place. It's a bit dilapidated and badly needs some work, but it's only about a mile from Rickyard Farm. Actually less, if you use the footpath through the estate. The agents were asking two hundred and ten for the place; we put an offer in of one ninety; they came back asking for two hundred, which we refused. It's going to take at least ten grand to get the place up to what we want. Anyway, they called yesterday and asked if our offer was still on the table. I said yes, and they accepted it.

"The place is not mortgageable as it is — needs too much work — but both our parents have offered to loan us what we need until we can get it sorted out and into a mortgageable state. Phil's offered us a place on the estate till the end of May, so we are going to be living there whilst the work is carried out."

"Is there a lot of work?" Dad asked.

"It depends on how you define a lot," Bill replied. "Structurally, it does not appear to need much, though I would like to sort some better insulation out. It does, though, need to be replumbed; it still has the old lead piping in it. At the same time, it needs central heating installed and a complete rewire. Would you believe, in this day and age, it's still got the old, round-plug sockets?

"The thing is, Mike, we really can't afford to be paying for the work on the place and paying rent down here."

"That's fine, Bill," Dad stated. "How about we say that you have given me notice today and I've accepted it? That being the case, your tenancy here will end on the 28th of February. You don't have to be out by then, so long as you are out before the end of March. Will that work for you?"

"Thanks, Mike, that will help a lot."

That settled, Janet showed Mum where the bathroom was situated. There was a door just by the one we came in from the stairs. That led to a first-floor extension, that contained the bathroom.

"By the way, Mike, do you know that three doors down they have taken the bathroom extension right up to the attic?" Bill told Dad. "A couple of others further along have done the same."

"That's interesting," Dad said.

"What's interesting?" Mum asked. Dad explained.

"Having a full bathroom on each floor would make life easier," Mum observed. "This one could be made into a utility room and WC."

Janet insisted that we have coffee or, in Dad's case tea, and some cake before we left. Over it, Mum and Janet chatted about what living in the apartment was like. Janet did say it got noisy at the front because of the traffic. She said that she and Bill mostly lived in the back rooms. Mum told Dad to sort out triple glazing for the place.

The sun was setting when we got out of the flat, and it was past five when we got back to Uncle Bernard's, which meant it was a bit of a rush to get washed and changed for the theatre. Uncle Bernard had booked a table for us at the Amalfi for six, it was nearly half past when we got there, but the table was still waiting. I got the impression that the management were used to Uncle Bernard.

Fortunately, we did not have to be at the theatre till just before eight, so we had time to have a relaxed meal.

When we did get to our seats at the theatre, I was rather surprised to find Martin and Marcia there. There were also a couple of other people whom Dad appeared to know. Though I had no idea who they were and as the show was just about to start, we were not introduced. It turned out that Uncle Bernard had been given a block of tickets and distributed them around to his friends.

At the end of the show, both Joseph and I were on our feet applauding, together with a good proportion of the audience. What can I say, we are gay; we have to fit at least one of the stereotypes.

The pair of us talked about the show in the taxi going back to Uncle Bernard's, somewhat, I think, to Mum's annoyance. I am not sure she is really into musical theatre. We also talked about it when we were lying in bed. Joseph, of course, had seen the show before, but I never had.

I was not totally happy with the arrangement I had agreed with Joseph that I would go home Sunday morning, but I left with Mum and Dad. When I thought about it on the drive home, I realised it was probably a good idea not to spend so much time together at the moment. Not only because of Joseph's GCSE but I had my AS levels coming up in sixteen weeks. I needed to do well in those if I was going to have any chance of getting an A* at A-level next year. I really did need to get down and do some studying.

On Monday, I was somewhat surprised to see Steven in college. Jim was hovering protectively around him. When I spoke to them, Jim confirmed that Steven should not have come back for at least another week, but Steven was insistent that he did not want to miss too many classes. Later in the day, I came across Steven in the corridor on his own. Jim, it seemed, had gone to the bogs. Steven admitted to me that the reason he had come back to college so soon was to get away from his Aunt Grace.

"The woman is smothering me," he stated.

I had phoned Steve when we got back on the Sunday, to tell him about buying George Hamden's toolbox. He came over to look at it on Monday night. He also spent some time explaining to me what some of the tools were. One thing was clear; some of them were a lot older than George Hamden had been. Steve guessed that they were probably George's apprentice master's tools and had been passed onto George when the master boat builder had died. He recalled that George had once said that some of his tools had been passed down since they were used to build the Victory.

"Looking at this lot, I can believe it," Steve stated.

The other visitor we had on Monday night was Matt. He came to talk with Dad and Mum about the Golders Green flat. Although Dad and Mum wanted him to do the redesign for the premises, he refused the job, telling them they should get someone local in to do it. That way, they would have somebody who knew the local planning department and could guide the changes wanted through the planning procedure.

Matt did agree, though, to find an architect for them from around the Golders Green area. He also agreed to act as a design consultant on the project. More importantly, from my perspective, he told Dad that the offices for Mike Carlton Productions were going to be inspected and hopefully signed off on Wednesday. My workshop would be done the same day.

Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling like I had been on an all-night bender. Not that I knew what an all-night bender felt like, but I had read enough to have a good idea. As it was, I was aching all over. When I got down to the kitchen, Mum took one look at me and ordered me back up to bed. She came up fifteen minutes later with a honey-and-lemon drink for me and couple of paracetamols. She also took my temperature, told me I had a fever and announced that I had flu and that I was confined to bed for the day and probably the next three. She also told me she was leaving instructions for Dad.

Dad brought me a coffee up about ten with a pack of dark-chocolate digestives. There was also a two-litre bottle of Buxton water which, he informed me, he had made a special trip to the supermarket to get. Apparently, Mum was insistent that I did not become dehydrated. With respect to the biscuit, he expected that I probably did not feel like eating, which was right, but he thought I should have something to nibble on. In that, he was right. Although I did not feel like eating, I managed to get through the whole pack by the time Mum returned from college.

For the next two days, I suffered in a modicum of solitude, interrupted with supplies of fluids, light food and Mum's chicken soup. I thought it was Aunt Debora who was Jewish. All the nursing was supplied with a modicum of information about what was going on in the world. The main news was that Joseph was bedridden as well. In Mum's opinion, we probably got infected at the market on Saturday.

I really could not see the logic in that. We could quite as easily have picked it up at the theatre on Saturday night, although that would not explain why Mum, Dad and Uncle Bernard, were all unaffected. I accepted the market theory; at least, I did until Saturday.

Saturday morning, I felt a bit more like a human being and managed to get downstairs for breakfast. For some reason, I was starving, which Mum took as a good sign. Over breakfast I complained that it was not fair that I had gone down with flu but everybody else had escaped it.

"It's your own fault," Mum informed me. I looked at her puzzled. "Well, you and Joseph decided you did not want the flu jab last October."

I had forgotten about that. Joseph had been reading something about vaccinations being unnatural and dangerous. He was telling me that there were all sorts of chemicals used in vaccinations, so we agreed not to have any more. Now I was regretting it; hopefully, so was Joseph.

I returned to college on Monday only to find that most of my class was absent due to flu. The ones who were not were in the early stages of recovery from it. When I thought about it, I realised I had probably infected the whole class.

Antonio joined me at lunch over at Marge's, not that I was particularly hungry; I still had not got my full appetite back. So, while I consumed a mug of coffee and a couple of Marge's chocolate brownies, Antonio tucked into a full English breakfast, commenting that this was one good thing that the English had done for the world.

Simone gave me a lift home Monday evening, which I was grateful for. Mum had a late class, so I would have been stuck at college till gone six if I had waited for her. There were another two months before I could start going about getting my licence. Would be glad when I could start lessons. That reminded me I really had to start reading up for my theory test.

As we were getting near the Priory, I told Simone to use the front entrance, rather than the Green Farm way in. Coming up the hill to the Priory, I pressed the remote on my keyring as soon as I saw the gates. They started to move and were fully open when Simone turned her car in. I then had to use the remote again to open the second set of gates to the yard.

Dad and Lee were in the new office with Arthur when we pulled into the yard. We could see them through the large glass windows that Dad had got Matt to install. Fortunately, he had left the old-coach-house doors at my workshop.

Simone pipped her horn as she pulled up outside the office. Lee waved to her, then Dad waved me into his office. As I entered, he was telling Lee that there was not much they could do today, and he might as well finish and take his girl out.

"We're just going to try the mats out," Lee stated.

"What mats?" I asked.

"The dojo mats; they arrived last Thursday," Lee informed me. "Got them laid out in the small barn at the weekend. Simone's going to help me test them. Thought we would go through some of the knife kata; Simone needs it for her grading."

"Any chance I could watch?" I asked.

"Sure. We're going down to the Crooked Man for a meal, but we will be back around six-thirty, so any time after seven we'll be in the barn."

I said I would see them about seven-thirty after I had dinner. Mum had told me there was a fish pie in the fridge to be put in the oven at five-thirty so it was ready when she got home.

Once Lee had left to join Simone by her car, Dad made a comment about them being a good-looking couple. I could not disagree.

"Johnny, is there any chance you could design a sign for us to put on the door?"

"What sort?" I asked.

"Something like the letterhead you knocked up for us. It has to be in black and white and no larger than fifteen by thirty. If you can get it into an SVG file it would be helpful."

"I presume you mean centimetres?"

"Yes, why?"

"It is always a good thing to specify the scale you are using. I'll look into it once I have started dinner."

"Anne said she had something in the fridge for tonight."

"Yes, Dad, fish pie. Just need to pop it in the oven in about thirty minutes. Need to sort out what we are having with it.

"When's the furniture coming for this place?"

"That's what Lee and I were discussing. I'm ordering it in the morning. Hopefully, it will be here before the weekend. Then we can move in, which will make Lee happy."


"Well, there is nowhere really for him to work in my study."

On that, I had to agree that Lee had a point.

I left Dad in his office taking some measurements and went in to sort out what to serve with the fish pie. In the end, I decided on green beans, mostly as they were the first thing I pulled out of the freezer. One good thing about the Aga is that the oven is always on; no need to preheat.

Once I had put the pie in the oven, I went up to my room and called up Dad's letterhead in my graphics program. It did not take long to rearrange the elements to form a sign for the door, though I had to do a bit of fiddling around with the greyscale to get things to look right in black and white. The final result was a bit smaller than the fifteen by thirty size Dad had set as the maximum, but I thought making it any larger would look crass. That sorted, I then had to find a way to generate a SVG file for it as my graphics program did not support the format. I decided to email Arthur and ask if he had any advice.

Five minutes later, I got a link back from him that pointed to some open-source software that converted png files to svg. I decided that could wait till later. I had better get down to the kitchen and get the beans on; Mum would be home soon.

By the time we had finished dinner and I had got the graphic file into the required format, it had gone seven-thirty. I made my way around to the outbuildings and the small barn. When I walked in, I saw Simone and Lee dressed in what looked like long black skirts and white blouses. Lee was swinging a knife towards Simone's neck. Just before it got to its target, Simone moved forward and turned. I did not see what Simone did, but Lee was in the air. He was thrown a good eight feet before hitting the mat, where he rolled and came to his feet facing Simone. Lee took two steps towards Simone, then stabbed at her stomach. As he did so Simone stepped towards him, turning as she did so. Her hand capturing Lee's knife hand, pulling him around as she turned. Suddenly she changed direction, throwing Lee over the top of his own arm. As Lee landed, Simone went down on one knee, ramming it into the side of Lee just below the armpit of his knife arm. She turned the arm as she leaned forward against it. With his free hand, Lee tapped the mat and released the knife, which Simone took. She stood up and stepped back two paces, then she went down into a kneeling position, laying the knife in front of her. Lee assumed a kneeling position opposite her. At that moment they became aware of my presence.

Lee suggested to Simone that they take a break, which Simone agreed to. Then they both came over to the edge of the mat to talk to me. Lee asked me how much I had seen. I explained that I had seen Lee thrown twice.

"You went flying through the air, but Simone did not seem to be doing much," I told Lee. "Has she got some special power to project you into the air?"

"No, that's my doing," Lee stated. "All Simone was doing was putting me off balance and applying locks to my arm or wrist. I had to throw myself around to release the locks. If it had been a non-martial artist or even one from a different tradition, they would not have flown."

"So, what would have happened?" I asked.

"They would have broken bones or dislocated joints," Simone answered, laughing.

"I'm not sure I understand," I informed them.

"Take you shoes off and come onto the mat," Lee instructed. I did. The three of us moved to the centre of the mat.

"Look, grab my wrist," Simone said, extending her right arm to me. I took hold of her wrist. She placed her left hand over the hand I was holding the wrist with, then gently turned her right hand over the top of my arm, at the same time bending her elbow.

An agonising pain shot up my arm. The only escape from it was to drop down on my knees, but even then, the pain followed me down. Simone looked down on me, smiling.

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