Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 14

It took me a better part of two hours to work my way through a couple of mother's diaries. By the end, I had about twenty pages of notes. I finally decided to pack in, mainly because I was hungry and it must be about time for lunch.

On that issue, I was not wrong. I had only just put the book I had been working on back in the box when Mum put her head through the door and announced that there was soup ready for us. Both Dad and I followed her to the kitchen. I was glad we did; Mum had made some French-onion soup, and it was delicious, going well with the second loaf of sourdough bread that Dad had baked yesterday.

After lunch, Dad and I cleaned up the kitchen whilst Mum went into her snug to watch something on TV. The snug had originally been the housekeeper's parlour and Dad still called it the parlour. Mum, though, called it her snug.

"Find anything interesting?" Dad asked. "You seemed to be making a lot of notes."

"I'm finding something. The thing is, I don't know what, so I am just noting anything that seems odd or interesting."

Dad nodded, then went off to his study to do some work. I decided against returning to the diaries and determined to undertake the walk I missed out on this morning. Somehow, I found myself down by Pound Pond. I had not intended to walk down there, but I did and found myself thinking back to the day when Joseph discovered that the gully to the Blackwater was man-made.

I remembered how excited he had been by the find. I also remembered what that find had led to: Joseph telling his parents that he was gay, so letting me know he was gay as well. From the first time I saw Joseph when we went to Uncle Bernard's, I had fancied him — fancied him in a way I had not fancied any other boy. Normally, I would see a boy I liked and would want to have sex with him as soon as possible. With Joseph, things were different. It was not about sex, though the sex was good, it was about being with him, having him around. When Joseph was not there, it was as if part of me was missing.

At the moment, he was not there. He did not accept my phone calls; he did not reply to my emails; he had not replied to my letter. I just did not know what to do. It was doing my head in. I could not work out what I could do. All in all, I was feeling very morose. So much so that I sat down on one of the stones of the mill race and… I am not sure what I did. All I know is that I suddenly realised it had gone dark and I'd better get back to the house.

I was just entering the back of the yard when Neal's motorcycle roared into the yard. He pulled up by the door to the Stable House and pulled off his helmet.

"Johnny, how are you?" he called to me as I crossed the yard. I turned and walked back to him.

"OK, but what are you doing here?"

"I was supposed to be covering for Arthur, but he's not going till later in the week. Thought I might as well look in and see how things are going. Reading reports is one thing; seeing the business in operation is another. But how are you, and don't say OK, as you don't look it?"

"Joseph's dumped me."


"Yes. Not heard from him since last Saturday. He doesn't take my phone calls; he doesn't answer my emails and he has not answered my letter."

"Look, I'm bloody freezing from the ride up here, and I'm not due to meet Arthur for another hour or so. So, how about you sort out a nice hot drink, and we can talk about things in the warmth."

"Well, if you're stupid enough to ride a motorcycle sixty-odd miles in this weather, you deserve to be frozen. Come on, I'll sort you a hot chocolate."

Mum was in the kitchen when we entered. She immediately started to make a fuss of Neal, so I did not need to make the hot chocolate. She made some for both of us.

"Dinner will be in an hour," she told us. "You'll be joining us, Neal?"

"I'm supposed to be having dinner with Arthur."

"Phone him and tell him he's joining us as well. There's a nice piece of beef pot-roasting in the slow oven. I've just put the potatoes to roast in the main oven. There's plenty for all."

Neal phoned Arthur and passed on the message, then told Mum that Arthur would be with us within the hour; he was down at the Craven place. For the next half hour or so until Arthur arrived, Neal asked me questions about what had happened at the party. After I had told him the whole sequence of events, he sighed, leaned back in his chair and looked at me.

"Well, it seems cousin Tony has caused a right mess. Well, he caused it; he'd better sort it out."

"Is he really your cousin?" I asked. "I always thought his dad was a banker."

"He is, Johnny. Tony's a Porter. The old relationship between the two families still goes on. Used to be the Thompsons stole it and the Porters fenced it. They always handled the money side of things. Nowadays, we generate it; the Porters bank it. It's just that Aunty owns the bank."

"What doesn't she own?"

"Sorry, can't tell you that." I looked at Neal. He looked a bit crestfallen. "Sorry, Johnny, I don't know what she does not own. I only know what she owns when I need to know that." I laughed.

The back-doorbell rang so I got up and opened it. Arthur was there, and I let him in.

"Why did you ring the doorbell? You could have let yourself in."

Neal spoke up. "Now you're here, Arthur, could I get into the flat? I need to get changed before dinner."

I could see Neal's point. Sitting down to dinner, even a fairly informal one, was not advisable in bike leathers. Arthur and Neal went off to the Stable House. Arthur assured me they would be back before half-six. I washed up the mugs and went in through to the snug to sit with Mum for a bit.

Over dinner, Neal and Arthur filled us in on what was happening with the business. Neal would be here till next Sunday to cover for Arthur while he was away. Maddie would be arriving next Friday and would take over from Neal on Sunday to cover the next week. Unfortunately, both Neal and Maddie were unavailable after that, so there would be no cover for Arthur.

"Will that be a problem?" Dad asked.

"Shouldn't be," Arthur replied. "Both the girls are fully trained up on the systems, so if there is breakdown or technical issue, they can deal with it. The thing they can't do is handle sales enquiries and give quotes. However, telling a customer that they will be contacted the following week to deal with their enquiry will not put too many off. If there is real pressure for something to be sorted, they can always Skype me."

"What are you going to be doing until Arthur leaves?" Dad asked Neal.

"I really need to have a good look at our capacity and loading. We seem to be growing faster than expected. If it goes on at this rate, we are going to have to expand both facilities and staffing. I was wondering if we could have a board meeting on Tuesday?"

"It will have to be Tuesday night," Dad replied. "I'm filming Tuesday morning and have a script review Tuesday afternoon."

There was a short discussion, and the three of them agreed to meet at seven on Tuesday for a board meeting. I made a note to make myself scarce on Tuesday evening.

It is a good four-hour drive to Simmons Reek, a muddy inlet on the East Anglian coast, with nothing much of importance for a few miles in any direction. For some reason, now lost in history, Simmons Reek had become a bit of a graveyard for abandoned hulls, a number of which had been stripped of anything useful and left to rot on the muddy banks. As we were driving there at far too early an hour of the morning, I asked Steve about the name. So far as I knew, reek meant a bad or strong smell.

"It also means smoke in Scottish," Steve informed me. "There's a Scottish blessing, lang may ya chime reek – long may your chimney smoke. However, in this case, I think reek is a contraction of creek."

"What's the place like; you've mentioned it a few times."

"Well, basically, it's a graveyard for boats; has been for ages. There is a family that live out there, the Douens. They get old boats, strip out anything that can be salvaged and then just let the hulls rot away. Sometimes, somebody will have a use for something from one of the old hulls, so bit by bit they get chopped up.

"What use could you get from an old hull?"

"Well, say I need some wood to repair a vintage sailing boat. I might be pressed hard to find a matching piece of modern wood, but there is always a chance I could find a similar piece of wood from an old hull. It's a useful resource but a pain to get to."

Some distance past Holt, we turned off the paved road onto a dirt track that ran along the coast a few hundred yards inland. Between us and the sea was a series of sand dunes, shingle banks, lagoons and what Steve assured me was a river. Eventually we turned onto a concrete road, which led to a military blockhouse, beyond which was a rather ramshackle collection of buildings that Steve assured me was the Douens' place.

"We have to walk from here," Steve informed me as he got out of the Land Rover. I climbed out, then followed him over towards the buildings. As Steve opened the gate that blocked the path leading to the building, a bell sounded somewhere in the distance. A moment later, a tall, stocky woman came out of the door nearest us.

"Hi, Steve, if you're wanting Cliff, you're out of luck; he's taken the boys up to Cromer to do a retrieval."

"Wouldn't mind seeing him, Rita, but don't need him," Steve responded. "Bob Carluck asked me to look at a hull he saw; said he would speak to you about it."

"Yes, he did, though he did not say he was sending you. Phoned Friday. Said he wanted his chap to look at that old hull at the top end of the Reek. 'Pose you're the chap."

"It seems so." Steve turned to me and indicated that I should come forward. "This is Johnny; he's helping me in the yard these days. Johnny, this is Rita; she runs this place these days."

Rita stuck out her hand to me. I took it to shake. As I did, she held mine with a strong grip. When she released it, I was somewhat relieved to see I still had a hand. She then turned and told Steve that she would take him to the hull that Bob was interested in. I followed them.

As we passed what I presumed was the living quarters of the buildings, I noticed a small woman tending some plants in a greenhouse. Rita must have noticed me looking.

"That's Cliff's wife. She's always trying to get a garden established here. Never had much luck. Too salty the soil here for most plants, but Diane keeps trying."

On the other side of the collection of buildings was a small boatyard with a docking area and slipways. Rita led us past and over a slight rise, beyond which was a wide inlet, which looked to be about two hundred metres or so long. Scattered about the banks were a number of boats in various states of repair or disrepair. Some looked almost complete, others little more than a collection of ribs; some existing only as a keel with one or two partial ribs sticking out of it.

"That's the one that Bob's on about," Rita stated, pointing to a black hulk at the far end of the Reek. "Go and have a look about it. I'll be in the boatshed. Got some boards steaming. Better get back to bend them." With that, she left us. Steve led the way up to the hulk.

The next hour was spent measuring up elements of the hull, with Steve noting down details in his notebook. Then he put on waders and went into the water to look at the stern. I was instructed to go back to the boatyard and find Rita and ask for a boat brush. It took me the better part of fifteen minutes to find her, but when I did, she quickly found what was needed and handed it to me. Before I could take it back to Steve, Rita got me to give her a hand clamping up a plank against the form, that being the wooden jig that gave the shape to which the plank was being bent.

"Well, at least you know what you're doing," she commented once we had finished. "That's more than I can say for either of those chaps Steve brought with him in the past. Well, whilst the form is taking, I might as well come along and see what Steve's found that he needs a brush for." I just nodded and started back towards the Reek with Rita beside me.

When we got to hulk, I found that Steve was back on dry land, so I just handed him the brush. He pointed to the extra pair of waders and told me to get them on, then to wash down the stern boards. I was surprised how shallow the Reek was and mentioned to Steve that it must have been a bit of a job to beach the boats. He informed me that the boats were all shallow draft and would be beached during the Spring tides.

"There's a four-metre tidal range around these parts. I timed it so we got here at low tide. Now get a move on as the tide's turned, and we don't want to be standing here much longer."

I got on with the job, and as I removed the accumulated dirt, grime and mud that covered the stern, faint lettering could be made out. Steve took the brush off me to scrub away a bit more of the accumulation on the stern. Eventually he was able to read all of it.

Once we had got back onto relatively dry land, Steve recovered his phone from his jacket.

"Blast! No fucking signal."

"Nha, there ain't any coverage out here," Rita commented.

"I don't suppose you've got internet?" Steve asked.

"You're joking. The only reason we have a phone line is that they put one in during the war for the battery." She indicated the squat concrete buildings which we had parked by. I looked across at them. Then I noticed a yacht slung in a boat cradle parked behind one of the buildings. Rita must have noticed me looking at it.

"Interested in The Lady Ann, are you, lad? Go and have a look at it. It might be something that Steve might be interested in."

I went over to look. It was beautiful, even in the state it was. The line of the hull suggested this was a boat built for speed. Unfortunately, the keel was missing, and there was a major gash in the side of the wheelhouse. A stump stood above what was left of the cabin, indicating where the mast had been.

"That's had a bit of a going over," Steve stated as he came up behind me to look at it.

"That's for sure," Rita confirmed. "Some playboy decided he could race the Burns' Day storm the day after he bought the boat. Never sailed her before. Lost his keel, then his mast, though that probably saved him. Lifeboat got him and his girlfriend off, but the conditions were too rough for them to attempt a tow.

"The hull washed just up past the point a month or so later. That opened a can of worms."

"Why?" Steve asked.

"Don't know the details, but the insurance refused to pay out the purchase price of the boat, claiming that it could be repaired. The playboy wanted nothing to do with it. Apparently, girlfriend had not been impressed by it. The argument dragged on in the court for ages. In the end, the insurance made a payout a lot less than what playboy paid for it but got ownership of it. They put it up for auction, and Cliff bought it about seven years ago; thought it would make a project the boys could work on."

"It's clear they didn't," I commented.

"No, they didn't. The twins have no interest in boatbuilding. Oh, they can do it okay, and they know what they be doing. But there is no interest there. They'll be off to university in September, and it's probably a good thing."

"Why?" Steve asked.

"We're losing the yard the year after next. After nearly two-hundred years, the Douens ain't going to have a yard on the Reek."

"How come?"

"The lease runs out this time next year but one. The old Duke gave the house and mill to my ancestor, for what reason, we don't know, though it was said that the likeness of the old Duke and my great-great-great-great grandfather was much the same.

"Anyway, a few years after he gave the house and mill to my ancestor, he leased him the land around the Reek where the yard is. It was a lease for one-hundred-and-ninety-nine years at a peppercorn rent, and it expires next year plus one.

"When the present Duke's father died, they ceded the estate land around here to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. That included the freehold of the land we have in leasehold. Now the Trust wants that back."

I recalled something about a right to renew from when I did A-level law.

"Don't you have a right to renew?"

"No, the leasehold does not cover the residential property; we own that outright. It is only the yard and the land around the Reek that is held under the lease. That counts as commercial, so we have no right to renew. Even if we did, I doubt we could justify paying a commercial ground rent on it. We've been paying five pounds a year for the last hundred-plus years."

"That explains a lot," Steve commented. "Cliff said once that the land was leasehold. I could never work out how you were making it pay, not at commercial rents. At a peppercorn rent, it works.

"Any idea what they are going to do with it?"

"Turn it into a visitor centre for the Trust. The wetlands around here are a haven for birds in the winter. People come from all over the world to see them."

Steve nodded.

We spent another half hour or so chatting to Rita in the relative warmth of the boatshed. Rita got me to give her a hand in forming another plank.

On the drive back I asked Steve what he thought of the hulk.

"Well, it's in pretty bad shape, and normally I would tell Bob to stay well away from it. We would have to strip it right down and rebuild. A lot of the timbers will have to be replaced. However, if I'm right, I don't think that will bother Bob."

"Why not?"

"Because it's The Princess of Alba, one of the Little Ships."

"The Little Ships?" I asked. The phrase rang a bell, but I could not remember what they were.

"Yes, the Little Ships, the fleet of small boats that went over to Dunkirk at the end of May 1940 and helped to evacuate the troops off the beaches. Bob's already saved one of the Little Ships. I think he will jump at the chance of saving another."

It was just after four when we got back to the Priory. Martin's car was in the yard. I knew that Steve had a change of clothes with him; I had suggested he bring them in case we were late getting back. We both needed a shower and a change. After wading in a tidal creek, there is a certain smell that lingers on one. I wonder if that is why they called it a reek.

When we entered the kitchen, Mum gave us a look. I told her that we needed to get showered and changed before we met with Martin. I was about to suggest that Steve use one of the guest rooms that had an en-suite; however, Mum directed him to the shower off the utility room. I went and found Dad and Martin and told them that we would be with them as soon as we had cleaned up, then went to my room.

It was some fifteen minutes plus before I got down to the study. I found that Steve was already there, talking to Dad and Martin. Once I joined them, Martin explained the state of play regarding the challenge to George Hamden's will.

"They have served a Notice Before Action on the executors, indicating that they are contesting the will and the grounds for doing so. Munroe and Claymore have responded as executors. In their response, they included information that they would be relying on to refute the argument of undue influence. Apparently, one of the main factors is a letter that George wrote to them about a year before you joined the yard, Steve. In it, he states that he has no intention of leaving the yard to his sons as they had no interest in maintaining it as a boatyard. He is asking for advice as to what he can do to ensure that the yard stays as a boatyard. I have also supplied Munroe and Claymore with copies of some of the papers that were in the lot you let me have, Steve."

"Why would they make the defence case so early? Surely, discovery is not invoked at this point?" I asked.

"No, Johnny, it's not. The thing is, they can make it clear to the plaintiff's solicitors that they have a very strong defence. In all likelihood, the plaintiff's solicitors will advise their client against proceeding with the case. They might even refuse to handle the case."

"Can they do that?" Dad asked.

"Oh, yes. A solicitor is an officer of the court; he has a duty to the court. Part of that duty is not to waste the court's time. If he takes a case to the court knowing that it has no chance of success, he is failing in his duty."

"I always thought they were bound to do what their client instructed them to do," Steve said.

"No, Steve, that's for barristers. A barrister has no interests in the merits of a case; his or her duty is to give their client the best possible representation in accordance with the instructions they have been given. If barristers are instructed to plead a case in a certain way, they must follow those instructions, even if they believe the opposite. So long as they do not know definitely that the instructions are wrong, they must follow them.

"There is the famous case of a woman that Marshall Hall defended. She was accused of murdering her husband by poisoning him with chloroform. Marshall Hall showed during the defence that it would have been impossible for her to have done so, as there were no burns in the mouth, which chloroform would have induced if administered orally as the prosecution stated. She was acquitted. As Marshall Hall was leaving the court, he was overheard to say to one of the defence team, 'In the interest of science, she really ought to tell us how she did it.' He fully believed she had killed her husband, but he did not definitely know that she had. In any case, he had to give her the best representation that he could.

"Anyway, back to the main point; at the moment, the position is that the procedures have been started for George Hamden, Jr., and his relatives to contest the will. You are the only beneficiary of the will who is not part of the Hamden family and the only person who will be affected if the will is overturned. John Munroe needs confirmation from you, Steve, that you wish for them to fight the case."

"What's the alternative?" Steve asked.

"You could take the settlement they have offered. Personally, I would advise against it, but the decision has to be yours."

"I can see that," Steve stated. "What's the worst-case scenario?"

"That the costs of the fighting the case use up all of the assets in the estate," Martin replied. "You see, the cost of fighting the case is carried by the estate, not the beneficiaries whose legacy is being challenged. Of course, the complainants have to carry their own costs unless they win, in which case the estate has to pay them, as well.

"The thing is, in this case George Sr. realised that they would probably challenge the will, so took steps to ensure that if they did, they would come off worse. As I told you, he has specified what assets have to be liquidated to cover the cost of any challenge to the will.

"To be honest, I don't really see what they have to gain. On the basis of the papers we have and the stuff that Munroe and Claymore have, I would have expected the other side's solicitors to tell them to pull the case."

"Can they afford to fight the case?" I asked.

"I presume so. Why?" Martin asked.

I told Martin about my talk with Mr. Peters on Saturday.

"Damn, I forgot about that," Steve swore. "Sorry, Martin, I meant to tell you about it when I phoned you but totally forgot."

"Well, that puts a somewhat different light on things," Martin stated.

"Could we buy the Salvage Yard?" I asked.

"Why should we want to?" Steve asked.

"There are two boatsheds there and three slipways. You've said you could double the amount of business you do if you had more sheds."

"That's true. Unfortunately, I don't have the funds necessary to buy it, and I doubt if the bank will lend me enough to buy it. I don't know of anyone else who could help me get a loan."

"I probably could," Dad stated. Both Steve and I looked at him.

"Look, Steve, if Johnny is buying into the business, it makes sense for me to do what I can to support it. If that means helping to secure funding for the business, I see no reason why one of the trusts should not.

"OK, it will take some time to get the cash available; in the meantime, I am sure Zachary could come up with some funding on the basis that the trust will refinance the loan as soon as the monies become available to the trust."

For the next twenty minutes or so, Steve, Martin and Dad were in deep discussion about how to set up a deal. In the end, it was decided that Martin would arrange for an expression of interest to be communicated to Richard Phillips, the owner of the Salvage Yard.

"If we get the Salvage Yard, could I put The Lady Ann there?" I asked.

"What's The Lady Ann?" Dad asked. Steve just looked at me, shocked.

I spent the next five minutes explaining to Dad about The Lady Ann — how good her lines were and that she would be a perfect restoration job for me to try my hand with. When I had finished, Dad looked at Steve.

"Well, he's right, Mike. That yacht has really good lines, though it has been bashed about a bit. If Johnny wants to take on its restoration, it would be a good project for him; he would learn a lot about yachts doing it. The problem is going to be the costs of getting it and where to store it whilst it's being worked on. If we get the Salvage Yard, the storage is not a problem; there is plenty of space there. The cost of getting it is going to be the problem."

"From what Rita was saying, I don't think they will be looking for that much," I stated.

"No, Johnny, I don't think they will. In fact, they might even give it you to get it taken away. The problem is going to be the cost of transporting it down here. That's going to be a few grand, at the least," Steve pointed out.

Dad, Martin and Steve talked a bit more, and Steve signed a pile of papers that Martin had for him; then he left. Once Steve had gone, Martin told Dad and me that he needed to inform us of developments on mother's estate.

"I spoke to your grandparents this morning after I met with Bernard. At his suggestion, I put a proposal to your grandparents as trustees from the estate of your mother with regard to the cash and cashable instruments found in your mother's house. The police handed them over to us on Friday.

"Your grandparents agreed that as you will be seventeen soon, you may need funds for driving lessons and to get a car, so they are going to release those funds to you as soon as all the cashable instruments have been liquidated."

"What are cashable instruments?" I asked.

"They are things like premium bonds and building-society bonds that have a set cash value and can be easily encashed," Martin informed me.

"How much is there?" Dad asked.

"Just under twenty-eight-thousand pounds," Martin replied. "We've got Johnny's account details. I'll get the cash put across to your account as soon as I can. The cashable instruments will take a bit longer. As soon as we have got all the bonds cashed, we will transfer those funds into the account."

"Well, that should cover The Lady Ann," I stated.

That settled, Martin left. Dad and I chatted for a couple of minutes about developments, then joined Mum in the kitchen for dinner.

"I thought you two had got lost," she stated when we walked into the kitchen.

"Why?" Dad asked.

"Well, Martin came through on his way out a good ten minutes ago. I was expecting you to follow him."

Dinner was steak-and-kidney pie, with plenty of mashed potatoes and some green beans. To be honest, I somewhat pigged out on it, so was feeling quite full when I made my way to the small barn Lee was using as a dojo. Jim and Steven were already there when I turned up, Jim on the mat practicing, Steven watching. Delcie was also there, paired off with Jim. I gave my apologies, but Lee said he knew about the meeting with Martin so had expected me to be late.

I had a bit of a lie-in on Tuesday morning. Although the dojo session had finished at nine, it was well past midnight before I had got to bed. We had all gone up to Steven's apartment after the session and enjoyed some scrumpy that Jim had got from a mate down in Kent. Not that there was all that much to enjoy; there was only one bottle for the six of us, so we just about managed a glass each, and that was only because Simone did not have any because she was driving. Simone and Delcie left just after ten as they had to get back to Southmead. Also, Delcie was on night reception from eleven till one. Lee left soon after, saying that he had to work in the morning, unlike us students. That left Steven, Jim and me talking till gone twelve.

Just after Lee had gone, Jim told me that my grandfather had phoned them.

"What about?" I asked.

"He wants to invest in the nursery," Jim replied. "In fact, he has offered to put twenty grand in, half as capital and half as a loan."

This surprised me. I knew that Granddad Jack was not bad off, but I did not realise he had that sort of spare cash around.

"What did you say?"

"Well, we said we would get back to him about it, then spoke to Steven's Uncle George. Anyway, Jack and him have agreed to meet up and go over things."

"How do you feel about it?" I asked.

"To be honest, it would be a godsend. With that sort of money, we could buy stock in from the Dutch wholesalers in time for Easter. That would make a big difference to our profits this year. Most of the sales nurseries like the one we are trying to set up are made in the six weeks following Easter."

I thought this was really something I needed to discuss with Dad, but I needed a lot more information. That said, I could see it would be a good deal for Steven and Jim. We spent over two hours talking about it and how having those sorts of funds would affect their business plans.

As a result, I was not totally surprised when I came into the kitchen to find Dad on the phone to Granddad Jack, apparently arranging for them to stay with us for a few days. Dad finished the call just as I finished making my breakfast.

"That was your granddad," Dad informed me.

"I gathered that; so, he is coming down?"

"Yes, Johnny, says he got some business he needs to sort out. They're at Manston at the moment. Ben is bringing them down in the morning. He will collect them on Saturday and take them home. Wish I knew what business he has got down here."

"It's the nursery; he is thinking of putting funds in. That reminds me; what's the position regarding the covenant?"

"Ah, yes, you weren't here when Martin was telling me about that. Well, it seems it does not apply to the Green Farm parts of the estate."


"It seems that old Cecil Laughton placed the covenant on the Priory two years before he bought Green Farm. As a result, the restrictions in the covenant only apply to the Priory. It does not apply to the Green Farm properties."

"And the family solicitors missed it when the estate was being probated," I pointed out.

"I'm not sure if they missed it or just did not bother to point the fact out to the family. I got the impression that they were not very pleased with the way the family were dealing with things."

I had not set my alarm, so it was past eight when I woke up and nearly nine when I got down to the kitchen. Dad was looking at the calendar on the fridge.

"What are you up to today, Johnny?" he asked.

"I'm going into the yard this morning."

"Oh, you've not put it down on the schedule," Dad commented, looking at the calendar.

"I'm not going into work. Steve's got a Health and Safety inspection this morning, but that should not take more than an hour. Once that's done, he is going to start work on the report about the hulk we examined yesterday. I would like to see what's involved. Should be back about two as Steve's only opening the yard half a day at the moment. Why?"

"I was going to suggest we might try and get to sorting out your workshop. Lee's got a meeting with probation this afternoon. They have not appointed a local supervisor for him yet, so he is having to drive to Southminster. I really need Lee around for what I am working on at the moment, so I am free to help this afternoon. Anne is baking, so she wants me out of the kitchen."

"What time?"

"Well, Lee's appointment is at three, so he will have to leave here at two, latest. So, any time after two."

"That works for me, Dad."

I ate my breakfast, then set off for the yard. The Health and Safety chap was just leaving when I arrived. I parked my moped by the side of the office and went in to get warm. It had been bloody freezing coming across the marsh. Given that Steve had been showing the Health and Safety chap around the yard for a least an hour, I suspected he was freezing as well, so I put the kettle on to make some hot chocolate. I was in the process of making it when Steve came in.

"Good, that's just what I need, Johnny."


"Not really, a few niggling things they want sorted out."

"Like what?"

"Putting 'Danger Hot Surface' signs on the steamers."

"But they peel off with the heat," I pointed out.

"I know; I told him. He suggested we mount the signs on some boards and hang them over the equipment."

"What are you going to do?"

"Give it a try, Johnny, give it a try."

I laughed and passed him his hot chocolate. Then I asked him about the report for Bob Carluck.

"I'll start on it as soon as I have finished this," Steve said, indicating the hot chocolate. "Even if it is a waste of time."

"Why is it a waste of time?"

"Because Bob phoned me last night; wanted a verbal report on it. The moment I told him that it might be one of the Little Ships, he wanted it. He wanted all the information on it. So, I gave him what I had got. Bob phoned me this morning just after eight. He's done some research and confirmed that a Thames Barge, The Princess of Alba, was one of the Little Ships. He's speaking to Cliff this morning to purchase it. I've got to sort out getting it down here."

"That's going to be a job. How are you going to do it?"

"Salvage barge. We'll put flotation units on the hulk and float it off the mud at the Spring tide, then load it onto a salvage barge. That might be good news for you."


"Because the salvage barge we are going to have to use to get The Princess of Alba will have enough spare room to bring The Lady Ann down in the same trip. There are a couple more things up there I would like to get my hands on, so I will set it up with Bob that we can bring other stuff down with us for no more than the loading and unloading charges.

"So, if Martin can get Dickyboy to sell us the Salvage Yard, we can put them there. I hope he can as I could really use the extra shed to put The Princess of Alba in. That's not going to be a short job, and I don't want to have one of the boatsheds tied up all summer. That would upset the regulars."

I could see where Steve was coming from. The Princess of Alba was massive compared to what we normally worked on. It would need a shed all to itself. Steve only had two sheds at the yard.

Once he had finished his chocolate, Steve got down to writing up the report on The Princess of Alba. The actual writing of the report was fairly straightforward. He had a standard template, in which he just entered the details of the boat, what was wrong with it, what steps had to be taken to correct the problem and how much it would cost. Steve filled in the first part of the report, then told me to take over. He just read out the information from his notebook, and I entered the details.

One thing I did notice was at the bottom of the report, just before where Steve would sign it, there was a disclaimer. This stated that the report was only an estimate of work required; it did not constitute a survey of the vessel and that it was recommended that a full boat survey be carried out by a qualified marine surveyor. I asked Steve about this.

"Johnny, I am not a qualified marine surveyor, though half the so-called qualifications out there are not worth the paper they are printed on. However, I am not recognised as a marine surveyor by Lloyd's. So, I do not do marine surveys. I also do not carry the liability insurance that I would be necessary if I was doing marine surveys. As a result, I don't want anyone relying on my report as if it were a marine survey, then suing my arse off because I missed something."

That made sense.

We had just finished the report for Bob when the phone went. Steve asked me to get a copy of the report sent off to Bob, then he answered the phone. I had just finished emailing a pdf of the report to Bob when Steve finished the call.

"Well, Johnny, it looks like I need to speak to your Dad."


"That was Martin. Dickyboy has just agreed to sell us the Salvage Yard. One-hundred-and-twenty thousand. Now all I need is the money to pay for it."

"That's really going to fuck George Jr. up," I commented.

Steve laughed. "Come on, lad, let's close up, and I'll buy you a pint."

"You better buy me a pie and chips to go with it, so I am legal drinking."

In the end I got more than one pint. Steve put my moped in the back of the Land Rover and drove us out to a pub on the road to Mayland. I did not get pie and chips. What I did get was a very nice steak and a couple of pints. Dad was not too pleased when I got home as he could smell the beer, but I told him that Steve had brought me home and dropped me off with the moped at the gate. I had just ridden it up the drive to the yard.

We spent the afternoon sorting out my workshop.

"Why the rush to get this done?" I asked Dad. "You know I won't be able to do much in here till the summer."

"I've no doubt that's the case, but your granddad wants you to have his tools. One of the things he is going to do whilst they are here is sort out their move down here."

"The tools or Grandma and Granddad?"

"The tools, though it would not surprise me if they were not also planning the latter."

"Would that cause problems?"

"Not sure. In some ways it could make life easier," Dad replied.


"Well, for a start, it would mean that there would be someone around for you when Anne and I are up in Town, which will be most of the week after September if she gets into university. Though there is also the matter of when you go off to the International Boatbuilding School and then to university. Anne will still be on her course, so it is likely that the place will be empty a lot of the time. Having somebody living in it would be a good idea, if only for security."

Dad had a point there.

"By the way, Johnny, how did things go at the yard this morning? No problems with Health and Safety?"

I explained about putting the warnings on the steamer, which I thought was a bit pointless. Anybody with half a mind should realise if piles of steam were coming out of something it was likely to be hot. I also told Dad about the call from Martin and that Steve would need to speak to him.

"There will probably be a message left on the answerphone," Dad stated. "That's unless Anne answers it, though that's not likely. She does not like anything to interrupt her baking."

It was nearly five by the time we finished in the workshop, not that everything was sorted. For a start, I needed to work out where to put the mini-lathe that Granddad had bought me. Also, there was a problem with the lights; positioned as they were, they cast a shadow on the workbench if I was sitting working at it.

When we entered the kitchen, we were assailed by the smell of fresh baked bread, cakes and pies. The table was piled up with the sources of those scents.

"What's the occasion?" I asked Mum as we looked at the table.

"It's Flora's birthday on Thursday," Anne informed me.

I looked at Dad.

"I didn't know," he stated. "It's your mum who keeps track of these things. How old is she, Anne?"

"If you think I am going to tell you that, you've got another think coming. Anyway, I don't know; all I know is that it is on the 26th of Feb."

"Wouldn't you have been better off making them tomorrow?" I asked.

"We're in Town tomorrow," Mum advised me.

"Are we?" Dad asked.

"Of course, we are. It's Terry's appeal, and Arthur may have to give evidence. We need to be there to support him. By the way, I've told Arthur and Neal that they are joining us for dinner."

They did join us for dinner, so the entire talk at the table was about the business. I must say I was not particularly interested in it other than the investment I had in it, so zoned out a bit until they started to talk about the court case tomorrow.

"Martin said that in all probability I would not have to give evidence, but I have to be there in case I am needed," Arthur informed us.

I do not know what made me decide to do so, but I found myself saying that I would go along as well.

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