Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 28

There are some times of the day that simply should not exist, at least not if you are waking up to your alarm going off. For a seventeen-year-old, five in the morning is definitely one of those times. It's a good time to be going to bed but an awful one to be woken up at. However, I reminded myself that we had to be at the airport at some ungodly hour; then I set about waking Joseph. If you think five in the morning is bad for a seventeen-year-old, you should have seen how sixteen-year-old Joseph reacted to it. I did not know he knew words like the ones he came out with.

Somehow, however, we both managed to get up, shower, sort out our bags and be down in the kitchen, fixing a light breakfast before Mum decided it was her duty to come up and bang on our door. That is not quite right; we met her on the stairs as we were going down. Lee arrived to drive us to the airport at six, and by ten past six we were all in the Merc, Dad in the front passenger seat, Mum, Joseph and me in the rear seat. I am not sure if the rear seat is wider that the one in the Santa Fe, but I must say it was a lot more comfortable than the three of us being in the back of the Santa Fe.

It being a bank-holiday Monday, the traffic going into London was a lot lighter than normal. In fact, it was almost non-existent. As a result, we were at London City Airport a good half hour before our planned arrival time. Mum insisted on double-checking we had our tickets, passports, etc., before she let us out of the car and off into the terminal to fend for ourselves. Mum and Dad had to get over to Heathrow to catch their flight.

We checked in for our flight, then went to security. It was a good job we were early; it took us over half an hour to get through, and by the time we were through, our gate number had already been listed and people were starting to gather to board, although the boarding sign was not showing. It looked as if we would have about twenty minutes before boarding started.

Joseph went to get us a couple of coffees. I took the opportunity to phone his father, who I thought would be up by now, and have a quick chat with him. After all, he was my favourite uncle, being the one who controls the access to my money. Uncle Bernard thanked me and said he would look into things for me when I explained why I had called.

We had only just finished our coffees when boarding for our flight was called, and we made our way to the appropriate gate, only to find that we had a twenty-minute wait before they actually physically started to board the plane. However, once boarding was started, it went quickly, and the plane was soon trundling down the taxiway to get ready for take-off. The hop over to Schiphol is one of those where the plane spends most of its time ascending to cruise altitude or descending for landing, so the seatbelt sign is on for most of the flight. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is what it felt like. Just over an hour after we had left London City we landed in Schiphol. Then we had to find our way out of the airport. Why do they have to make them so large? We seemed to be walking for hours.

Eventually, after what seemed like miles of walking, even with the travellators, we exited into the arrivals hall. Dad had told me that there would be someone from the film company to meet us, so I looked around. Off to one side, I saw a tall, young woman holding a card saying Mike Carlton Productions. We went over and introduced ourselves.

"Goedemorgan, I'm Sylvia. I will be your guide while you are in the Netherlands. I was told there would be five of you, where are the rest?" she said in response.

"There are only two more; they are on a different flight that is about half an hour behind us. The third person, my father's PA is arriving later in the week," I told her.

Sylvia informed us we would be going by train to Apeldoorn as it was easier and quicker than driving. From Apeldoorn, we would take taxis to the vakantie huis that had been booked for us in Beekbergen. I had to get her to explain what a vakantie huis was. So far as I could make out, it was a wooden house used for holidays in the country.

Mum and Dad arrived about forty minutes after us. Joseph spotted them as soon as they came through into the arrivals hall. He waved, and Dad spotted him. After I had introduced them to Sylvia, she showed us the way to the station. Fortunately, she had already purchased first-class tickets for us, and we were soon on the train to Apeldoorn. A double-decker train! Sylvia explained that it was known as a VIRM train, though I had no idea what that was.

Looking out of the train windows, I had expected to see traditional windmills and dykes. What I saw were neat fields, divided by ditches, not hedges or walls; greenhouses, warehouses, and gardens with little summer houses in them. Sylvia explained that the gardens were kept by people in the city who came out to them at the weekend to get some private open space. There were also a lot of modern wind turbines but no windmills. I mentioned this to Sylvia, who was seated next to me.

"Wrong part of the Netherlands, we've only kept them in the tourist areas," she informed me. So, I asked about the dykes. "We're on top of one; that's why you can't see it."

She went on to explain that the railway and the roads, generally ran along the tops of the dykes. You did not want to waste good agricultural land by building a road or railway on it. They use the dykes. That explained why, when I looked out the window, I was looking down at the fields.

Joseph, who had lost the toss for the best window seat — he was seated opposite me with his back to the direction of travel — was busy filming the passing scenery with the video camera I had got for him.

When we arrived at Apeldoorn, Sylvia got two taxis for us. The taxis drove us down a road alongside of a canal, then we turned onto what seemed to be a major road, before turning off onto country lanes between farmlands. We passed through a small village, which our driver informed us was Beekbergen , then turned off the road onto a gravel track which led into some woods. At the start of the track was what looked like a small café and behind it a house. As we went up the track, I could see through the trees a number of wooden cabins, each set in its own little cleared area. The taxi pulled up behind the taxi that had Mum, Dad and Sylvia in it. We were in front of a wooden cabin.

I asked Sylvia about the buildings at the start of the track. She informed me that there was a small café, a swimming pool and the park offices there.

Once we had got our bags unloaded from the taxis and into the cabin, we sorted out our bedroom arrangement. The cabin was what Sylvia informed us was a one-and-a-half-storey building. The ground floor consisted of a small kitchen, a shower room with toilet, a reasonably large living room and a bedroom. Upstairs were two more bedrooms, though the head height was somewhat restricted in places because of the sloping roof. Mum and Dad naturally took the ground-floor bedroom. Joseph and I opted for the front bedroom upstairs. That left the slightly smaller back one for Lee if he came over before we left.

Sylvia explained that this was a small vakantie parc but a fairly upmarket one, with sixteen vakantie huis like this one or larger. The film company had taken the whole park over for this week and the first three days of next week. Then the production would move to the south of the Netherlands. She also told us that De heer Wilhelm, head of production, was expecting us for lunch at one. I pulled my phone out to check the time. It was quarter past twelve. Sylvia had a pile of papers which Dad and Mum had to sign. These were apparently for the hire car, actually a people carrier, which was being put at Dad's disposal while he was here. Mum was also down as a driver for it.

At quarter to one, we all piled into the people carrier, with Dad driving and Sylvia directing. Mum sat in the second row of seats whilst Joseph and I took up the back. We were soon on what Sylvia said was the main road into Apeldoorn. It seems we had come in via the back road, though Sylvia assured us it was the quickest way from the station. Once on the main road back into Apeldoorn, Sylvia told Dad to turn right into the car park for a restaurant which she told us was called De Zwann, the Swan in English. As we pulled into the car park, a large guy, at least six-foot-six and probably as wide, came out and walked over to the car. When we got out, Sylvia introduced him as De heer Wilhelm, the head of production for the film company.

Dad, of course, had spoken to him on the phone and via Skype but had never actually met him. He later admitted to me that De heer Wilhelm looked a lot smaller on Skype than he did in real life. De heer Wilhelm led the way into the restaurant, where we were introduced to the rest of the crew. Dad explained that Lee was not with us due to a technical hitch with his travel arrangements. I noticed he did not explain what the hitch was, just that some paperwork which was required had not come through in time.

Over lunch it was explained that today was a set-up day for the crew, and no filming was planned. That was due to start in the morning. However, a production meeting was to take place this afternoon, which Dad would have to attend. Sylvia would also have to attend. However, she suggested that we—that is, Mum, Joseph and me – should drive out and see the highest waterfall in the Netherlands and gave us directions on how to get to it.

I must admit when we got to it, I was rather unimpressed. First of all, it is not a natural waterfall but a man-made cascade at a place called Loenen. From what we could find out, it is part of the system to supply water to the canals. Second, it is not that high, only about fifty feet. There again Holland is a flat country, so anything that rises up any amount is regarded as a mountain. The thing was, I could not help comparing it to the cascade at Chatsworth, which is both bigger and longer. To be honest, even the fountain at Chatsworth is bigger than this waterfall, a point I commented on to Joseph.

"Yes, but Johnny, the cascade and fountain at Chatsworth were built by the Dukes of Devonshire to impress people. This is stuck away in a wood to serve a purpose, though from the number of people around looking at it, I think it impresses some."

He had a point. It was about four when we left Loenen to drive back to Beekbergen. As we went through the village, Mum said we'd better stop and get some groceries. Even if we eat out, we still needed stuff in the kitchen for breakfast and snacks. That's when we hit a problem: none of us had any euros on us. Dad had some, but he was at the production meeting. So, we had to search around for an ATM. Fortunately, there was one at the Rabobank, which mother went to use. Her debit card did not work. Neither did my debit card. If it had not been for Joseph, we would have been in a mess. His debit card did work.

Once we had got some cash, we went back up the road to the small supermarket and got some basic supplies. Mainly coffee, milk, sugar, biscuits, bread and butter. Mum told us to forget about tea; she had brought plenty of tea bags over with her, having heard horror stories about continental tea. Mum also got a variety of cooked meats so she could make sandwiches for us to take out for lunch if we wanted to.

That sorted, we got back into the people carrier and made our way back to the vakantie huis, though we did manage to get lost on the way. Mum missed the turn onto the forest track that led to the vakantie parc. Once back in the house and after we had put the food and supplies away, we set about finding out what the problem was with our cards. Fortunately, the house had internet service, so I was able to use my laptop and log onto the wifi. Then Mum was able to use Skype to phone her bank. After what seemed to be ages of holding and being passed from one operator to another, Mum was eventually informed that her card had been blocked for security reasons. The reason being given that there had been an attempt to use it outside of the UK or Ireland and they had not been notified that it was going to be used overseas.

After some discussion, they agreed to lift the stop that had been placed on her account. They then informed her that as her card had been security-blocked, they were sending her a new one and it would get to her in five to seven days. Mum was furious, pointing out that she was in the Netherlands and needed to be able to get money. The bank was not helpful.

Once Mum had finished speaking to the bank, I had to go through the same process with exactly the same result. For Mum, it was not quite as bad as it could have been as she did have credit cards. However, before she thought about using any of them, she went online and made sure that she had informed the card companies that she was travelling overseas. Being under eighteen, I did not have a credit card, so was a bit stuck.

We were still in the middle of all this when Dad arrived back. Once informed of what had happened, he apologised and said he should have thought of the problem. Apparently, it had happened to him years ago, and now he made sure his cards were registered for overseas use. He then dished out some euros to both Mum and me. That done, he got on the phone to Lee, giving him instructions.

"With a bit of luck, a solution should be here sometime tomorrow," Dad stated as he put his phone down.

"What, luv?" Mum asked.

"I told Lee to go to the Post Office and get a couple of pre-paid euro cards. He's to put a thousand euros on each and then get them couriered here. I'd better check with the park's office that they will accept delivery." That said, Dad went out. He was back about ten minutes later, smiling. "No problem; they will take the courier delivery when it comes. In the meantime, you will just have to rely on cash. What are your plans for tomorrow?"

"Sylvia suggested we go to the Hoge Veluwe," Mum stated. "It's a national park that is close by. There is also a museum and sculpture park there."

"It's actually a sculpture garden," Joseph told Mum. "It's attached to the Kröller-Müller Museum."

"Well, hopefully you won't need a lot of money there," Dad stated.

That evening, we went to a pancake house for dinner, a place Sylvia had recommended. I had not been too keen on the idea of pancakes for a main meal, but Dad said I should give them a try, so I did. I am glad that I did. The Dutch version of the pancake was totally different from the English pancake. For a start, it was thicker and bigger; it was also filled, and there were a wide variety of fillings. I had a pancake which I was told was filled with wild boar and mushrooms. If that was correct, I definitely liked wild boar and mushrooms in a cream sauce, wrapped in thick Dutch pancake.

Later in bed, I asked Joseph how come his debit card had worked and mine had not? This puzzled him for a bit as we were both with the same bank, though different branches, of course. The he remembered something.

"Last year, before I met you, we went to Portugal for half-term," he told me. "Dad's been talking about buying some property there for ages, as we have a right of return. Dad got my debit card authorised for overseas use then. I know they had problems the year before when we went to Spain."

"What do you mean 'right of return'?"

"Under Portugal's law of nationality, any descendent of Jews forced to leave the country by the Inquisition, have a right to return and get Portuguese nationality. Dad's family are Sephardic Jews, they were merchants in Oporto before the Inquisition arrived."

That explained a lot.

Tuesday morning, Dad had to set out early for a morning's filming. They were going to be filming at the waterfall and had to get it done before the place got busy. Once we had breakfasted, Mum, Joseph and I set out for the national park. By the time we got there, what had been a dull, overcast day had turned into a wet, dull, overcast day. A fine drizzle started to fall just as we arrived at the park and kept going all morning. I mentioned to Joseph that conditions were not very good for filming, but he pointed out that as Dad and the film crew were in the woods, they probably would not notice the fine drizzle, the trees would protect them. We, on the other hand, were out on open moorland getting soaked, a state we avoided getting into by seeking shelter in the Kröller-Müller Museum.

Joseph, I am sure, would have been happy to spend the whole day in museums. I am not so keen on them. Alright, I like to look at a painting, but a couple of minutes is enough for me. Joseph could stand in front of a Picasso or a Van Gogh for ages. Ten-minutes max was enough time for me.

Fortunately, a need for sustenance curtailed Joseph's attempt to beat the record for standing in front of a Van Gogh, much to Mum's and my delight. In order to satisfy that need, we made our way to the café. During lunch, we discussed what we would like to do over the next few days. Mum wanted to visit the White House at Oosterbeek, which she informed us was just outside Arnhem and was the headquarters of the Allied forces during the battle of Arnhem. She also wanted to go to Hartenstein, also at Oosterbeek, which held the Airborne Museum about Operation Market Garden. All I knew about that was what I had seen in the film A Bridge Too Far.

Neither Joseph nor I had any particular interest in that, so I suggested that Mum might like to do that on the day we went into Amsterdam. There was a bit of a discussion about when that should be. In the end we decided on Thursday.

Whilst we were having lunch, the weather took a turn for the better. The sun came out, and the drizzle which had plagued the morning ceased. So, we went and walked around the sculpture garden. Again, Joseph was fascinated by all the pieces there, taking a lot of photos of the different sculptures. To be honest, the place left me a bit bored, but Mum and Joseph were both having a good time.

It was while we were looking around the sculpture garden that Mum's phone pinged with a text from Dad. The crew were having dinner that evening at De Zwann, where we had lunched the day before; we were invited to join them. Mum noted that dinner was to be early.

Once we had finished with the sculpture garden, Joseph was keen to have another look around the museum, but I had had enough, so put my foot down. Instead, we went to look at the Jachthuis Sint Hubertus. I had looked up "jachthuis" and knew that this meant hunting lodge, so was expecting, well, something like a hunting lodge. What we found when we got there was something more like an English country house, a fact that Joseph found fascinating. He got even more fascinated with the place when he found out that the building was designed by Hendrikus Petrus Berlage. Apparently, he was a famous architect and Joseph told me that one of the things he wanted to see in Amsterdam was the Commodities Exchange, which Berlage also designed.

We took a tour of the Jachthuis, which we learnt had been built as a home for the Kröller-Müllers. I enjoyed it, but I do not think I got as much out of the place as either Mum or Joseph. I definitely did not get as much out of it as Joseph did. He took so many photos that he ran out of battery charge in his camera, and I had to lend him mine.

The thing that stood out for me about the whole day, though, was the lake upon whose shore the Jachthuis stood. It was filled with carp, which were gigantic; they were also very tame. That, no doubt, was due to the fact that there was no fishing allowed in the lake and the tourists feed the fish, throwing bits of bread to them. I saw one small girl standing by the edge of the lake, holding a piece of bread out over the water. As she dropped it, a carp rose from the water to take the bread.

I would have liked to spend more time around the lake and looking at the countryside of the Hoge Veluwe . Unfortunately, not long after we exited the Jachthuis, the weather turned again, and the drizzle from this morning returned, this time with a vengeance. By the time we turned onto the road to Apeldoorn, it was no longer drizzle, but to use Terry Pratchett's description, more of a vertical sea with slits in it. I had been boarded at a school up in Yorkshire where they boasted you could see four seasons in a day — actually where we were, more like an hour — but I had never seen rain like this.

We got to the De Zwann about fifteen minutes before the time that Dad had said they would be there. That was probably a good job as it meant we could sit in the vehicle and wait for rain to ease off a bit before we had to make the dash to the door of the restaurant. We were not far from it, only about thirty metres or so, but with this rain, a thirty-metre dash would have drowned one.

It was getting close to the time we had arranged to meet Dad, and there was no sign of the weather easing up. Anyway, both Joseph and I were showing signs of needing food; our stomachs were rumbling. It was at least four hours since we had had lunch, and we had not had a snack or anything. Not even a bar of chocolate. Thirty metres away was a restaurant, which meant food, and we were getting desperate.

Luckily, just when we got to the point where we were having to decide between starving or drowning, a fleet of people carriers like the one we were in, pulled into the car park. The people in them were clearly used to Dutch weather; they got out of the vehicles carrying massive umbrellas, the type that make golfing umbrellas look small. I saw Dad getting out of one of the people carriers with one of the umbrellas. He must have spotted us as they pulled in; he immediately walked over to our vehicle, accompanied by Sylvia and another young man, both with umbrellas.

The three of us were escorted into the restaurant under the umbrellas, Mum with Dad, Joseph with Sylvia. I went with the young man who informed me his name was Gert, who made a point of apologising for the weather.

"You are unlucky," he said. "We don't usually get rain like this, at least not at this time of year."

"Well, I am just glad it is coming down vertically," I responded. "Now, where I live at times it comes in from the North Sea — horizontally!"

"We get that in Zeeland," Gert stated. "The only way you can tell the difference between the rain and the sea is that the rain is wetter."

I could not help but laugh at that, as it was just so true.

Mum and Dad sat at a table with De heer Wilhelm and a woman who, Sylvia informed me, was an executive from the TV channel that had commissioned the series. Joseph and I were at a table with Sylvia, Gert and a couple of technicians from the film crew. I suspect we got the more interesting conversation as the technicians gave us an insight into everything that had gone wrong during the day's filming. I also got the impression they did not have much respect for De heer Wilhelm.

During dinner, Sylvia asked what our plans were for the rest of the week. I told her that we had not planned anything, really, except for Thursday when Mum was going to Oosterbeek and Joseph and I were going to Amsterdam. Gert asked me if we knew Amsterdam, and I had to admit that we did not.

"My brother, Luuk, is a student in Amsterdam," Gert informed us. "Although there is no college this week, he is still in the city. I could ask him to show you around. He knows the good places to go."

I thanked him and said that it might be useful. I thought I could sort something out when I knew definitely what our schedule was for Thursday. Gert gave me his mobile number — or handy — as he called it.

We got back to the vakantie parc just after seven. Fortunately, it had stopped raining whilst we were in the restaurant, so I did not get soaked when Dad asked me to run down to the office and see if the couriered package had arrived. When I got there, the man in the office was talking in English to a woman who sounded American. He was explaining to her that she could buy a vakantie huis from the manufacturers for forty-thousand euros and have it erected on a site in the park. She would have to pay rent for the site, but the park would let the place out when she had no use for it, and she would get two thirds of the rental. Given that information, the woman took some brochures and left.

When I asked about the couriered package, the man went into the back and got it for me. He told me it had arrived just after three in the afternoon. I was about to thank him for it, then had a thought. I asked him about what he had been telling the woman. Did I hear correctly that the cabins could be bought for forty-thousand euros? I was assured that was right. A new vakantie huis started at that price, though some went up to over a hundred thousand. The type of cabin we were in cost sixty-two thousand to buy. He gave me one of the brochures he had given the woman. I thanked him and got back to our cabin.

As expected, the package contained prepaid credit cards for Mum and me. It also contained some papers for Dad and a DVD. Dad explained he had left Lee doing some research for him and the results were on the DVD. Reading the packet of information that came with the prepaid credit card that Dad had allocated to me, I found that I could top it up with more funds from my bank account. I was tempted to do so but then thought that since it had a thousand euros on it, that was more than I spent in most months.

Wednesday was a very early call for Dad, they had to be at the location where they were filming for five in the morning, so Dad had to be up and out before four. However, he did get back to the cabin just after nine while we were still having some breakfast and had the rest of the day off until late afternoon. The first thing he did when he got back was to make himself a mug of tea, thanking Mum profusely for bringing English tea bags over.

"Had some tea on location," he stated. "Dutch tea is so weak it is like—"

"Don't go there," Mum insisted.

"OK," Dad continued. "It is ruddy weak."

Both Joseph and I laughed. We knew full well what Dad was about to say. Once he had drunk his tea, he went to lie down for a couple of hours. Joseph and I decided to go for a walk around the park. There were a lot of trails through the surrounding wood. Mum said she was going to read for a bit. We agreed to meet up at eleven, then go into Apeldoorn.

When we got back to the cabin, we found Dad awake and on the phone to Lee. Apparently, something had come up which required his attention, though by the look of him, he was quite happy with whatever was going on. When he got off the phone, he told us the news.

It turned out that the court had given the judicial declaration with respect to the covenant. It was not as good as we had hoped but not that bad, either. They had decided that as old man, Laughton had merged the properties into one. It was clearly his intention that the covenant that he had put on the first property should apply to the second. So, the covenant on not selling off any part of the property applied to the whole property. To me that did not sound like good news. However, it turned out that whilst they held that the covenant applied to the whole of the property, they also found that it did not prevent the leasing out of parts of the property, provided the lease was not of such a nature as to remove ownership effectively from the estate.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Well, it means that I cannot do the nine-hundred-ninety-nine-year lease that Steven's uncle suggested," Dad stated. "I can, however, give them a ninety-nine-year lease on the nursery and cottage. Just been onto Lee and asked him to contact Jim and Steven and let them know and also to contact Steven's uncle and Jim's father. Hopefully, that will mean they will be able to get the cottage finished soon."

I hoped so as I did not think it could be all that comfortable for Steven in the caravan. It was not that comfortable when I was living in it.

After an early lunch the four of us set out for Apeldoorn — to be precise, the palace Het Loo . This was an historic royal palace, a sort of miniature Versailles; at least, that is what the guidebook said. I was not so sure. I had been to Versailles, and there was no way this compared, though there were some similarities in the garden. Joseph, of course, found the whole place fascinating.

We went into the town afterwards, much to Mum's delight. She found a store called Blokker, which had all sorts of pots and pans that she liked. If Dad had not pointed out to her that there was a weight limit on our luggage, I think she would have bought the whole store out. As it was, she extracted a promise from Dad that the next time they came over they would bring the car.

"Is there going to be a next time?" I asked.

"It looks as if there will be," Dad stated. "De heer Wilhelm has asked me if I will do a follow-up series about the threat to Holland's sea defenses from global warming."

"Are you going to?" Mum asked.

"So long as the terms are right, yes."

"Then we will bring the car over," Mum stated.

Dad just nodded in a manner which indicated that he was reconciled to the inevitable.

Joseph managed to find a shop that sold photographic equipment and got a spare battery and charger for his camera. He also got himself another memory card. I did suggest he might need more than one spare battery at the rate he was taking photos. In the end, I bought a spare for my camera as it was the same as the ones used by Joseph's camera. I thought having two spares should cover us.

Dutch tea may not be up to much, but they do have some fantastic cakes. They are not as fancy as the ones you find in a French patisserie, but there is a damned sight more of them. Then there is boterkoeken — butter cake. No wonder the Dutch have such a lax attitude to cannabis; boterkoeken must be far more addictive. Joseph bought a packet of it from a shop at the top of the high street. It was totally consumed before we got to the end, and we had to find another place selling the stuff.

I would have liked to have spent more time looking around Apeldoorn, but Dad had to be back at the park by five in order to be picked up for the next round of filming. Apparently, this was going to be some low-light filming in the Veluwe at dusk.

Although Mum had stocked the kitchen with supplies to make snacks and deal with breakfast, we did not have the resources to cook a meal, so we decided to go down to the café that was attached to the office for the vakantie parc. The café itself was a long narrow room with floor-to-ceiling windows on each side. On the one side, they looked over the indoor swimming pool, which I thought looked inviting. Joseph speculated that when the café was built, the pool probably did not exist or was outside and that the building over it had been added later. On the other side, the window looked out over a garden to the boundary hedge of the park and the gateway into it.

The drizzle of the previous day had returned not long after we had got back from Apeldoorn. Fortunately, it was light enough that, given the protection of the trees, we were able to walk down to the café without getting wet. Once there, we found we were the only customers. The woman serving informed us that with the film crew having taken the whole of the park for the ten days, when they were out filming, it was very quiet.

The café's menu was, fortunately, available in both Dutch and English, although I found I could actually make sense of most of the Dutch version. I ended up ordering pork in a mushroom sauce served with chips and salad, a meal that turned out to be delicious. Joseph had gone for a steak, as had Mum.

Whilst we were eating, Joseph suddenly started to giggle. I looked up to see what was going on and saw that he was looking at something outside the window. Turning to look in the same direction, I saw two umbrellas, bobbing up and down slightly, progressing in our direction on the far side of the hedge. Then Joseph burst out in laughter, in which I joined, as two nuns appeared, in their habits, riding their bikes; each had one hand on the handlebar, the other holding an umbrella. The nuns were riding in exact formation, side by side, on the heavy Dutch bikes that we later learned were called omafiets, grandmother bikes. Across the back of the two bikes, perched on the luggage racks, was a bath. Even the woman who had been serving us was laughing at the sight and shaking her heads.

"The sisters," she informed us, "do not have a car. They regard such a thing as an expensive extravagance which would divert funding from their work supporting the poor. Most of the poor they do support do have cars, regarding them as essential, if only for getting to and from work."

After dinner we watched TV back in the cabin. Fortunately, it showed both BBC1 and BBC2. However, most of the programmes showing on the Dutch channels were in English with Dutch subtitles. No wonder nearly everybody we had met spoke such good English.

Dad did not get back till nearly eleven. He had a note with him for me from Gert, saying that he had arranged for Luuk to meet us in Amsterdam and show us around. We were to text Luuk when we got on the train to let him know which train we were on. He would meet us at a specific location at the Central Station.

Thursday morning, we were up early as Dad had an early start for filming. Mum was going to drop Joseph and me off at the train station in Apeldoorn before she drove to Oosterbeek to see the museum there and then visit the war-grave cemetery. One of her uncles had been a paratrooper who was involved in Operation Market Garden and had been killed in the subsequent battle for Arnhem. She had promised her grandmother that she would visit his grave whilst she was over here.

This came as something of a surprise to me as I had not realised that her grandmother was still alive. I had met her mother at the wedding but was fairly certain that her grandmother had not been there.

"You're right, Johnny, grandmother did not attend," she informed me. "The old lady is in a nursing home and pretty immobile due to arthritis. However, her mind is as sharp as a pin, even if she is well over ninety."

"You sound as if you're not sure of her age," I stated.

"We're not; she has never told anyone how old she is," Mum laughed. "And none of us would dare ask."

We got the train from Apeldoorn but had to change at Amersfoort , though it was not a long wait for the change and we were in Amsterdam not long after nine. We found Luuk where he had said to meet him. We had no problem identifying him as he looked like a slightly younger version of Gert. He suggested going for a coffee at a place in the station so that we could discuss what we were interested in and what we would like to see.

Once we were in the café, Luuk asked us what we wanted to see. Joseph said he wanted to see the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Commodities Exchange.

"Why the Commodities Exchange?" Luuk asked.

"It's by Berlage, the architect that designed the Jachthuis Sint Hubertus," Joseph replied. "I've seen the Jachthuis and want to see how the Commodities Exchange compares. I also want to see how this place compares with the Rijksmuseum. Pierre Cuypers designed them both."

"Actually, Cuypers only really contributed to the façade and decoration of the station," Luuk stated. "The structural design was mostly done by railway-company engineers, which, if you think about it, makes sense."

"I didn't know that," Joseph stated.

"To be honest I didn't, either, until I started studying architecture," Luuk replied. "One of my professors is a consultant on the renovation and redevelopment of the station."

I gave an inward mental groan with the news that Luuk was an architecture student, a groan that was well-deserved as Joseph immediately started an in-depth discussion with Luuk about architecture. After what seemed like hours but was probably only about fifteen minutes, I managed to interrupt with the observation that since we had finished our coffee and cake, would it not be a good idea to start to get on and see the sights they had been talking about?

They both apologised profusely about getting carried away.

Before we left the Centraal Station, I did tell Luuk that one thing I really did want to see in Amsterdam was the Homomonument. Luuk looked at me and Joseph, then asked if we were a couple.

"Yes, we are," I told him.

"Oh, good. That will make life easier," Luuk stated.

"How?" I asked.

"I was hoping to meet up with my partner at lunchtime. He is also an architect student at the university. The thing is, the place we normally go for lunch is a gay café, and I was not sure about meeting him there while I was showing you around."

Before we left the Centraal Station, Joseph had to take a pile of photos. I only hoped he had remembered to charge up his battery and the spare we had got for the camera in Apeldoorn yesterday. I had made a point of charging both my camera battery and the spare I had got.

Luuk suggested that we spend the morning looking at the main tourist sights of Amsterdam, though he did point out that most of these would not be fully operational till the afternoon.

"Most of the girls in the windows will have been working flat on their backs till early this morning, so they will not get up till late this morning or even early this afternoon," he pointed out.

"Aren't there any boys in windows?" Joseph asked.

"Unfortunately, none," Luuk replied.

I had half expected to be bored stiff by Luuk and Joseph discussing architecture. However, it was not that bad. What was really interesting was the way Luuk explained why a building was designed in the way it was. A lot of it was about form and function. I could understand that what a building ended up looking like was dependent to an extent on what you wanted the building to do.

Luuk was wrong about one thing: that there would not be many girls in the windows. There were quite a few sitting on their stools, though they were mostly older women, and looking at them, I could well understand why they had not been working till the early hours of this morning. In fact, I found it difficult to imagine that they would get any customers at all.

Just after one, we arrived at a small café on Spuistraat, which Luuk informed us was gay-friendly. By the sign of the rainbow and pink triangles in its window and the rainbow flag hanging outside, I would say it was very gay-friendly.

The café was fairly busy when we arrived, and it was very clear that a number of the customers were gay and lesbian couples. We managed to find a free table at the back. Wim, Luuk's partner arrived a few minutes later. I never realised it was so easy to take a dislike to somebody on sight, but I managed it with Wim. He must have been a couple of years older than Luuk, and from the moment he arrived, he made it very clear he did not have anything in common with a couple of boys, and he thought Luuk showing us Amsterdam was really a waste of Luuk's time when Luuk could be doing something for him.

Luuk had told us earlier that he was interning over the holidays at an architectural practice owned by Wim's uncle. He had also admitted that all he did was run errands and make coffee. When Joseph told him what he had been doing at Matt's practice, Luuk was quite envious. It seems that Wim was also interning at his uncle's practice and doing a lot more than Luuk was.

I really did not take all that much notice of the conversation between Wim and Luuk, as Wim was totally ignoring Joseph and me until I heard Uncle Phil's name mentioned — or, to be more exact, his stage name, Matthew Lewis. At that, I took note. Apparently, Wim had just returned from a trip last weekend to see the architectural sights of England, which had included Manston. While they had been visiting the estate, they had met Matthew Lewis and Ben Carlton walking in the grounds. Wim regretted that they had not been able to see inside the hall, but there had been a wedding on, so they had not been able to go in.

There was something wrong about that, but I could not work out what it was.

Wim then went on to say he wished he could see what the inside of the hall looked like. Joseph interrupted and said he could show him, pulling out his phone. He scrolled through to some photos he took of Dad's wedding, showing the inside of Manston. Joseph had also taken a lot of architectural photos of the interior.

"Your father got married at Manston?" Luuk asked.

"Yes, it was my uncles' wedding gift to Mum and Dad," I informed him.

"You must have rich uncles to pay that much out for a wedding," Wim said with something of a sneer.

"He has," Joseph stated. "Matthew Lewis and Ben Carlton."

"It must be nice having uncles who own Manston," Wim said mockingly.

"Oh, they don't own it," I replied.

"Who does?" Wim asked.

"Johnny does," Joseph said. I sat back and smiled.

For the rest of the meal, Wim's attention switched totally to me, which I found a bit embarrassing. He was clearly trying to suck up to me and become my friend, a friend I definitely did not want. However, for Luuk's sake I did not want to make an issue over it.

Suddenly, Wim looked at the clock and stood. "Sorry, have to get back to work; some of us can't afford to take time off," he stated, looking at Luuk. With that, he left, leaving Luuk to pick up his part of the bill, something I knew would put Luuk in a difficult position. A couple of times this morning he had declined to join us when we had gone into paid attractions. So, the moment I could get the waitress's attention, I managed the small bit of Dutch I had learnt.

"De rekening, alstublieft ."

The waitress smiled, took out her pad, made a calculation and then announced a figure, which I could not understand. Luuk translated and informed me it was thirty-two euros. I pulled out two twenties and paid the bill. There was a marked look of relief on Luuk's face.

It was as we were leaving the café that a thought struck me.

"Did Wim say he spoke with my uncles at Manston on Saturday?" I asked.

"Yes, he was there Saturday morning," Luuk stated. "They did Chatsworth in the afternoon. He only spoke with Ben Carlton."

I smiled. "He's lying. Last Saturday, Uncle Ben was teaching a martial-arts course at the Green Farm Arts and Craft Centre, Lower Southmead. That's over two hours away from Manston, and he was there all day."

"Are you sure?" Luuk asked.

"Yes, the arts centre is in the grounds of the Priory, which is where I live. Uncle Ben had breakfast with me Saturday morning before I went into work."

"You work?"

"Yes, why?"

"But you're rich, you own Manston," Luuk stated.

"That does not mean I do not have to work," I told him. "Besides, the property is in trust till I am twenty-five; then, it is mortgaged up to the hilt."

I had to explain what that meant. I also had to explain that I wanted to design and build yachts and that was why I was working in the boatyard, to gain experience before I went off to university.

Luuk suggested that we leave the Homomonument till last. "It's best to see it at sunrise or sunset," he informed us.

In the afternoon, Luuk showed us the side of gay Amsterdam that the tourists tend to miss unless they have got a local for a guide. There were bookshops not selling porn — instead, gay and lesbian literature and non-fiction. They had books in Dutch, of course, but also in English, German and French. I got a copy of the Song of the Loon, a book I had heard about but never seen. In addition, I bought copies of Mary Renault's The Charioteer and Zimmer-Bradley's The Catch Trap, both books that Uncle Ben had told me were important in bringing about a change in the public attitude to gay men. Joseph got a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex. I did not tell him I had a rather battered copy tucked away in my room. He also got a copy of James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room.

There were a couple of Jean Genet books in French that I had not read and knew that Dad did not have in his library — Miracle de la Rose and Un Captif Amoureux — so I got those. Luuk seemed most impressed that I could read French fluently enough to read Genet. He admitted that he had done French at school but had never got to a standard where he could read Genet.

I could have got all these books in England but would have had to visit a number of different bookshops or purchased them online. I do not think there is one shop in England who would have them all in stock.

I do not know how or when it happened, but sometime during the afternoon things changed. Luuk was no longer somebody guiding us around Amsterdam as a favour to his older brother, but he had become a friend, showing his mates the city where he lived. As we walked along the canals in the warmth of the spring sun, we swapped details of our lives.

I learnt that Luuk's and Gert's mother was from Aruba, the Dutch colony in the Caribbean. His father had been a civil servant who had been posted out there on some mission or other. However, when he had married a local girl many years younger than himself, he had been quickly recalled to Den Haag. He had been advised by his superiors to leave his wife behind and get a divorce once back home, something, as a good Catholic, he could not consider, so he had brought his wife home with him.

"My father was fifty-four, my mother nineteen, but despite the age difference, I think they loved each other," Luuk said. "My father had been married before; his first wife had died about six years before he met Mother. He had three children from that first marriage. They always resented my mother and, by extension, Gert and me. Actually, I think they resented Gert and me more."

"Why?" Joseph asked.

"Because we are mixed race."

To be honest, I had not realised Luuk was mixed race. Yes, his skin was a golden brown, but for all I knew he could have just come back from two weeks on Bondi beach.

At the floating flower market on the Singel, we bought some flowers on Luuk's advice to place on the Homomonument when we got there. From there, we started to make our way back up towards the centre of the city. Making our way through De Wallen, the Red Light district, and ending up by the Oude Kirk. There were definitely girls in the windows by this time of the day. Some of them did not look old enough to be there, but Luuk assured us that they were of age. He said the police regularly check such things.

Joseph told him the story of the English journalist who spent a day watching a row of the window brothels. From ten in the morning to midnight, he watched and said he never saw anybody go in. The girls would speak to men, but no one actually went in. He suggested that the girls were actually models paid to be there by the Dutch tourist board.

Luuk laughed, then agreed that if the prostitutes were not there, the tourist board would have to put models in to take their place. The girls in the windows were, after all, one of the major tourist draws of Amsterdam. He also admitted that he had never seen anybody going into one of the brothels.

Luuk suggested that we find somewhere to dine, and he would meet us later to take us to the monument. Both Joseph and I insisted that he join us for dinner as our guest. Eventually, he gave in and led us to a nice eating place a bit off the main tourist route. Luuk called it an eethuis, which he informed me translated as eating house or eatery. Apparently, this was the sort of place the workers in the city came to get a meal — plenty of good food at reasonable prices.

"So, what happened?" I asked. "It is obvious that something is not going right for you."

"My parents were killed in a car crash," Luuk replied. "Actually, Mum was killed in the crash, Dad died four months after, which is the problem. He never regained consciousness after the accident.

"We should have been alright. He had left the house and half of his estate to Mum and the rest of his estate to his children from his first wife. However, they challenged the will on the grounds that Mum had died before him, so it was not valid. The courts upheld their claim and insisted that the estate be equally divided among his five children. That meant the house had to be sold. What Gert and I got was just enough for us to get an apartment on the outskirts of Rotterdam — and not in one of the better outskirts. Gert had to drop out of university so he could support me through school. He is insistent that I get my degree before he goes back to finish his."

"What was he studying?" I asked.

"Media studies," Luuk replied.

"Well, he's getting some good experience. Dad seems impressed with him," I commented. Which was true; Dad had said last night that if Gert had not been sorting stuff out, nothing would have got filmed.

"Yes, De heer Wilhelm uses Gert quite a lot, but Gert is only freelance. We can never be sure how long a job will last or when the next one will come up. Before this job came up, Gert was out of work for nearly two months. When this one finishes, he does not know when the next one will be."

"How come you're living in Amsterdam when you've got a place in Rotterdam?" Joseph asked.

"It's a bit too far for me to commute in, especially when I have an early class. I often have to work late and it would be dangerous to be out in our part of the city at that time of night if I went back to Rotterdam."

It was getting on for quarter to eight when we left the eethuis.

We walked down the Kaizersgracht to the Westermarkt, Luuk telling us about the history of the Homomonument and the symbolism of it. When we got there, we were on the wrong side of the canal. I think this was a deliberate ploy by Luuk, as we first saw the pink triangle of stone sticking out into the canal. Seeing it, I knew why Luuk had suggested we wait till the evening to visit it. The golden light of the evening sun as it was setting, gave a glow to the pink stone of the triangle.

We crossed over the canal at the Westermarkt. As we were crossing, Luuk greeted a couple of girls and a lad who were on the bridge with a professional-looking video camera. He informed us they were media students he knew from the university. Once across, we walked back up to the monument. That is when I found out that it was not one pink triangle, as I had thought from the photographs that I had seen, but three, each forming a point of a much larger triangle.

"It was designed by Karin Daan," Luuk informed us as we stood in the middle of it. "Each of the small triangles points to a significant location. That one points to the Anne Frank House, the one in the canal points to the National War Memorial on the Dam, and the one behind us points to the headquarters of CoC."

"CoC?" Joseph asked.

"It the Dutch organisation that was founded in 1949 to fight for gay and lesbian rights. It actually started in 1946 but became CoC in 1949. As such, it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, gay-rights organisation in the world."

Joseph and I went down the pink steps onto the pink triangle, which was built out over the canal. We placed our flowers alongside the other bunches of flowers that had been laid there. There were two more people laying flowers: a young woman and an elderly man.

Joseph started to speak some words in Hebrew. The girl looked at him, then walked off. Luuk shook his head. The old man bowed his head. When Joseph finished, the man hobbled across to him and spoke. "Dank je wel. Het is lang geleden dat ik de Kaddish horde ."

"I'm sorry; I don't speak Dutch," Joseph replied.

"English! Ah! I was saying that it is a long time since I heard the Kaddish being said. I have not heard it since 1945 when Belsen was liberated." This was said with a definite Australian accent.

By now, Luuk had joined us and heard what the old man had said.

"You were in Belsen, sir?"

"Yes, but I was lucky. I only arrived a few days before the liberation. If I had arrived earlier, I would have been dead."

With that, he turned and hobbled towards the steps with the aid of his sticks. It was clear he would have problems with the steps, so I went to assist him. Luuk was there also, on his other side. Between the two of us, we aided him as he made his way up the steps.

"May I ask you young men why you have come here?"

"I came …" I stopped. Why did I come? Not just as a tourist. There was something more to being here than just ticking it off some checklist of places to be seen. "I came because it seemed like the right thing to do — to remember those who have been victims because of their orientation.

"May I ask why you come, for it is clear it is not easy for you to come here?"

"No, it is not, but I come every April the seventeenth since I have been back in the Nederlands. I have come because that is the day it happened, the day we were betrayed."

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