Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 35

We were about halfway across the yard when I noticed Matt pulling into the yard, so I stopped to speak to him. I presumed he was coming to check on the work on the tithe barn but then thought he would probably have used the car park at the Crooked Man in that case. Most of the work at the moment was on the connection to the Crooked Man.

As he got out of his car, I noticed he had one of those tubes that architects use to carry plans around.

"Hi, Johnny," he called across from where he had parked. "Joining us for the meeting."

"What meeting?" I asked.

"I've arranged to show your dad my initial ideas for the sidings."

"I don't think he is back yet," I responded. The door to the garage where he kept the Morgan was open and there was no car in it. "What time did you arrange to meet?"

"We didn't. I just said I would see him this afternoon," Matt replied. I glanced at the Stable House clock; it was only just gone half-twelve.

"Well, you'd better come in and have a coffee. I think you might have a bit of a wait."

Matt shrugged his shoulders. "Hope it's not too long."

Once in the kitchen, I put on the kettle to make some tea and then went in search of Mum; she was in the living room. I told her that Matt was here to see Dad and asked if she wanted a drink.

"Your dad's phoned. I'd better have a word with Matt and then sort some lunch. If you're making coffee, I'd love one."

I returned to the kitchen where I had left Matt and Luuk. The two were seated at the table chatting about something; I had no idea what. I made the drinks.

"Matt," Mum said as she came into the room, "Mike phoned. He was hoping to be back by noon, but things have taken a bit longer than he expected. He's on his way; hopes to be back by half one at the latest. Now, have you had lunch because I am just about to make some."

Matt accepted the offer of lunch. I remembered Mum saying once that he normally spent Sunday lunch in the Anchor, the pub where she used to work in Lynnhaven. We had just finished lunch when Dad and Gert returned. Dad came straight in, leaving Gert out by the car. Dad apologised to Matt for not being here when he arrived, then asked me if I could give Gert a hand to unload the car. He suggested I take the collapsible sack barrow we had out with me. When I got to the car, I found out why. Gert was stacking what looked like six small- to medium-sized aluminium suitcases on the ground at the side of the car. How they had got them into the Morgan I had no idea.

"What's this lot?" I asked as I started to place them on the sack barrow.

"Those that you have just loaded contain cameras and lenses. This one is a sound-recording system with a twelve-channel digital recorder." With that, he passed me another case which was a bit larger and quite a bit heavier than the other two I had already loaded. "This is a portable-lighting rig." He passed me another case, which I added to the pile on the sack barrow; there was no space for any more. "I can manage these two," Gert added, picking up the last two cases, one in each hand.

"What are they?" I asked, indicating the cases Gert was carrying as I started to trundle the sack barrow back towards the house.

"This one's got a couple of smaller handheld cameras in it, and this is a camera drone," he said smiling as he lifted up one of the cases.

When we got into the kitchen, Dad asked me to put the cases in the study. He told Gert to take a seat at the table so they could have a quick lunch. Luuk gave me a hand getting the cases into the study. When we got back to the kitchen, I made another pot of coffee. Mum excused herself, saying she was going to get back to revision. That left five of us sitting at the kitchen table.

Dad asked Matt to show him the plans. He first pulled out an artist's impression what the site would look like. There were some six sketches showing it from different perspectives.

"Are those the studios?" Luuk asked, pointing to a group of buildings shown in one of the sketches.

"Yes," Matt replied.

"But that won't work," Luuk asserted.

Matt looked at him. "Why not?"

"The roof is not high enough," Luuk said. Then he realised he needed to explain. "Studio lighting, even the modern, low-energy systems, put out a lot of heat. It has to go somewhere. That's why studio ceilings need to be high, to allow the hot air from the lighting system to rise out of the way. If it doesn't, the places quickly become too hot to work in."

"You know, that's true," Dad said. "When we were filming Henk, the heat in that room became almost unbearable after about twenty minutes."

"How come you know this?" Matt asked Luuk.

"One of the exercises we had to work on for class this last year was the design of a new TV studio," Luuk said.

"Would you like a job?" Matt asked. "I've got to build these for Ben and Phil, and it would be useful to have somebody around who knows something about designing studios."

"Sorry, but I'm at university, I have to be back in class on Monday," Luuk replied.

"Don't you have vacations?"

"Yes, in June."

"How about coming over to work for me then?"

"I'm doing research for Mike."

"Hopefully, that will be finished by then," Dad pointed out. "Luuk, if we need you to do interviews or anything, I am sure Matt will give you time off."

Matt nodded in response to that.

The main part of Matt's outline plans was for a development of two- and three-bedroomed houses on the part of the sidings that Dad would end up owning. To be honest, I was not impressed by what Matt was showing us. To me, it looked just like any other small housing development. It reminded me of something I had come across on YouTube, a song about little boxes.

"The big problem before anything can be done is getting rid of all the railway stuff that is there. It's going to cost to get that lot dug up and taken away," Matt observed.

"Ten thousand," Dad commented.

"What?" exclaimed Matt. "You're getting it done for ten thousand? How'd you manage that?"

"No, that's what they're paying me to take the stuff," Dad said.

"They're paying you?"

"Yes, Matt."


"A consortium of railway-preservation societies," Dad explained. "One of Bernard's brothers is very much into railway preservation, and when he heard what we had here, he put us in touch with them, and they were keen to get their hands on it. We're giving them six months to clear the site, and they are paying us ten grand for the stuff."

Matt finished off giving Dad some spreadsheets which showed the development costs for the proposed housing. Dad looked at them, and I saw he was not happy.

That done, Matt left. Dad suggested we should move into the study, to look at what they had bought. I must admit I was impressed when I saw what they had got. What still puzzled me is how they got them all in the Morgan.

"Well, Gert had an uncomfortable trip home," Dad admitted.

I looked at Gert, questioningly.

"I had one in the passenger footwell, so I could not stretch my legs. I was sitting on one and there was one on my knees," Gert informed me.

"That only accounts for three," I pointed out.

"Well, there was one behind each seat; we moved them forward as far as possible," Dad stated.

"And where was the other?" I asked.

"I was sitting on it," Dad admitted. "Good job we had the top down."

"It's a good job you did not get stopped," I pointed out. I suspected that they would have been in breach of some road-safety regulation or other.

When all the cases were opened, I could only be amazed with what they had got. There were two clearly professional cameras, each in a fitted case along with multiple lenses. One case had what appeared to be a telescopic lens and a couple of other lenses; the other case had four different lenses and a camera. Both had microphones in the cases. The sound case turned out to have a mixer board and recorder built into the base. In what I thought of as the lid, a number of microphones were stored along with what looked like an umbrella. When I mentioned that to Gert, he informed me it was a parabolic mic, whatever one of those was.

What really excited Luuk and Gert, though, was the drone with its built-in camera. They assured me that this would allow them to take shots that would be difficult otherwise to obtain.

"I think Professor Stuurman might be interested in having some video shot using that," Luuk said.

"Who's Professor Stuurman?" Dad asked.

"He is one of the professors at the school of architecture," Luuk replied. "He is also a consultant on architectural conservation. One of the problems he has been talking about is surveying buildings for conservation. It is very expensive to put up scaffolding or hire cherry-pickers to take you up to look at high-level architectural detail. It can also be dangerous at times, especially if a building is unstable. With something like this, we could film the details and could look at them in safety in the office, where it is nice and warm."

"You could be right," Gert said. "If you are looking at something like the Rijksmuseum, a cherry-picker to cover that would probably cost somewhere between five- and eight-hundred euros per day. It would probably take more than a couple of days to survey it. With a drone, you could probably do the whole building in a day."

"Well, it's up to you, Gert," Dad told him. "From this weekend, you're MCP in the Netherlands. If you can make money hiring out the drone, do so. However, make sure you are operating it and they are paying for your time."

Gert laughed. "I will."

"How much did all this cost?" I asked.

"Ten grand," Dad replied.

"How come? I would guess those cameras must be about three grand each."

"Not far off," Dad replied. "One of the cameramen on That Woman's Son set up his own film-services business when the filming ended. Thought he had a contract for a pile of work, but it fell through. He paid twenty-seven grand for this lot but needed a few grand to stop the bank foreclosing on his house. Ben knew he was in a mess and thought we could use the equipment, so put us in touch."

"How is he going to work without this stuff?" I asked, concerned for the chap.

"Ben's got him some work on The Dodge, and when that finishes, he is going to work on both Snowball and Fly Boys. Ben says he should be out of his fix by the end of the year."

"An expensive fix," I commented. "I hope you get the money to him in time for him to sort out the bank."

"I did. Fortunately, telephone banking is twenty-four/seven. I called the bank and gave the instructions for transfer. Had already spoken to them and said I might be doing a large transfer today, so it went through with no problem."

Dad then went on to ask Gert and Luuk what the progress was with the documentary. It looked as if they had got quite a lot. Gert assured Dad that they would have all the filming in the Netherlands done by the end of June, and he did not think the rostrum work would take more than a month. That led to me asking what rostrum work was. Gert explained it was a special type of camera setup that was mounted on a table, known as the rostrum, and could be moved along three axes. As a result, a still photo could be 'animated' for use in a film production.

"Do you have a rostrum camera?" I asked, looking at Dad and expecting him to answer that he would hire one from Tyler.

"No," Gert replied. "But the university does, and I am on good terms with the department head for media studies. I've done them a few favours since I dropped out of my course. The department is closed in July, so she has said that I can use their rostrum camera — for a fee, of course."

"How much?" Dad asked.

"Seventy euros each day we need it," Gert said. "Actually, it is fifty, but we have to pay the caretaker twenty to lock and unlock the studio."

"It's cheaper than hiring one," Dad said.

"It's also more convenient," Gert said. "We can use the facilities any time during the vacation, so we don't have to do every shot in a few days' hire period. If we mess something up, we can go in and do it again."

"So, is there anything outstanding except for Kurt on the interview front?" Dad asked, looking at Luuk.

"Well, I am still trying to find Lex Klein. Hoped I would be able to do something while I was here but have not been able to."

"Why while you were here?" I asked.

"The information we have is that Lex was involved in getting some British airman across the Nederrijn to the allied forces in September 1944, shortly after the Battle of Arnhem. We know he was working with the resistance at the time and think he was acting as a courier. What we have found out is that immediately after he crossed over, he was flown to England. His arrival in London is recorded by the Dutch government-in-exile in September 1944. There is a reference in the records to some documents, but those are in the British National Archives and apparently still sealed.

"Dutch records show that he was offered repatriation to the Netherlands in 1946 but turned it down. This confirms what Henk told us, that Lex stayed in England. The record states that this was due to the fact that he had been offered a place at an English university. Then in 1952, he renounced his Dutch citizenship."

"So, you think he got British citizenship?" Dad asked.

"I think it is likely," Luuk responded. "I told Joseph about it yesterday, and he said he would do some searches and see if he could find anything. I did what I could online from Amsterdam. I think I found him up to 2001, but then he vanished from the scene."

"Maybe he's dead," I suggested.

"I would have expected to find an obituary. So far as I could see, he seemed to be fairly important. He was working for the Duke of Dunleiven."

"Dunleiven," I commented. "Now, there is a coincidence."

"What?" Luuk asked.

"I've just bought a boat that belonged to the duke."

"Pratchett strikes again," Dad said. Luuk asked him what he meant. Then Dad had to explain about the million to one chance occurring nine times out of ten. That then led to an explanation about Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series. To keep things simple, I went and found my paperback copies of The Colour of Magic and Mort, which I gave to Luuk to take home with him and read. I knew Dad had first-edition hardbacks in the library.

We discussed the documentary a bit more. One question which did come up was: should they translate and overdub the interviews or use subtitles? Dad decided that subtitles were probably the best so we could hear the emotion in the voice of the speaker.

That settled, Gert said he wanted to check something out with Arthur about the laptop. He was having a problem with one of the settings. Dad called across to the Stable House apartment; Arthur was in. He told Dad to send Gert over. Luuk went over, as well, in case something needed doing to his laptop.

"You know you've probably corrupted that boy now," Dad said.

"How?" I asked.

"Giving him those copies of Pratchett. There are two types of people in the world. Those who get Pratchett and those who don't. The problem is those who get Pratchett are immediately hooked on him and have to read all his works. I suspect Luuk will be one who gets Pratchett; he will become an addict, and it will be your fault.

"On the subject of fault, Johnny, I think I have made a big mistake."


"Agreeing to the sidings deal."

"Why? I thought we had gone over all the figures before you signed up for it. I remember you discussing it with the uncles."

"Yes, but that was based on the idea of putting an industrial estate on the site. All I had to fund was putting in the utilities and a road. I was looking at two-, three-hundred thousand max, though that was pushing me. The idea was the tenants would lease the plots and build their warehouses on them. With the sale price of the lease at twenty-five kay, twelve warehouses would cover the cost of the infrastructure. The other ten we could get on the site would be profit; then I would have the annual ground rent — that would be five thousand a plot — which would give over a hundred grand a year to cover infrastructure maintenance and provide some profit.

"The thing is, since then, we've decided that the industrial-estate idea will not work with the arts-and-craft centre and the other things we've got going. So, I asked Matt to sort out a plan for a small housing development."

"What's the problem?"

"The upfront costs. First, there is infrastructure that will have to be put in. It will be much more extensive than for the industrial estate. Matt's estimate on the road system alone is close to a million. Then I have to build the houses; there are over a hundred and thirty in the plan. That costs over eleven million to build."

"Shit!" I exclaimed. I could see Dad had a problem. "Can you afford to sit on the land and not get an income?"

"I could. I mostly used money from the insurance settlement to cover my part of the purchase price. The thing is, I don't want the land to be derelict. That's why I wanted to get it in the first place. I do not like having a derelict shunting yard at the back of the property."

"Then let the lads have it to expand the nursery or give it to Granddad when he moves down so he can have an allotment."

Dad laughed. "If I did the latter, your grandmother would murder me. She's been trying to get Jack away from his allotment for years."

There was a knock on the study door. Dad looked around and saw Lee standing there.

"Yes, Lee?"

"You have a four o'clock appointment with Jan," he reminded Dad. "You said you wanted me in on it."

"Blast, I'd forgot that. What time is it?"

"Ten to four," Lee supplied.

"Right. Johnny, you'd better hang around and sit in on this," Dad said. "You and Lee will probably have to deal with it after August."

Jan arrived exactly at four. It turned out that Dad had insisted on monthly reports on how the arts-and-craft centre was doing as part of the deal. It had been agreed they would do this on the first Sunday in the month. The centre had only been open for three weeks, so I thought there would not be that much to report. Oh, was I wrong.

First, there were a whole list of little problems which it was the estate's duty to sort out, like the fact that the if a car was parked along the nursery wall off the back drive, there was not sufficient width in the drive for them to reverse out and turn in the drive in one go. They had to manoeuvre out, partly turning, then go forward a bit, then reverse again. Also, Jan pointed out that two vehicles could not pass on the drive, it was essentially a single track.

"So, it needs to be widened, then?" Dad asked.

"Sorry to say so, but yes," Jan replied.

"Lee, can you contact Matt and ask what can be done about that. I am not sure if we will need planning permission."

"Yes, sir," Lee responded. I was surprised. I had never heard him call Dad 'sir' before.

There were a number of other issues that had to be sorted out, all fairly minor, except probably for the broadband, which Arthur would have to deal with. Dad instructed Lee to deal with each, Lee making a note on his tablet and answering, 'yes, sir', each time.

Those items dealt with, Dad asked how the business was doing.

"Better than expected," Jan replied. "All the workshop/studios have been let. They will all be occupied by the end of June. So far, we have seventeen courses scheduled and they are all fully booked, which, in itself, causes a problem."

"What?" Dad inquired.

"Accommodation," Jan stated. "We can accommodate more people on the courses than we can accommodate in the apartments, so I am having to find additional local accommodation for them."

"It's a nice problem to have," Dad pointed out.

"Oh, it is," agreed Jan. "It's just a bit of a pain."

"Financially?" Dad asked. "How are things going?"

"I had to give a lot of the tenants, actually all of them, some sort of rent-free period to move in. So, that will hit the turnover and your take from things. However, I should cover my costs this year and expect to be in profit next. Even with the hit from the rent-free periods, I still think we will hit fifty-grand turnover this year. I am looking in excess of twice that for next. I have already got ten courses set up for next year, and they are all fully booked."

"Good, is there anything else?"

"There is one thing. What's happening with the old forge? It is a bit of an eyesore and detracts from the overall ambiance of the centre," Jan said.

Dad looked over at Lee. "Lee?"

"We've found tenants for the forge," Lee informed Jan. "They have signed a five-year lease on it. Restoration of the forge will start soon. If everything goes according to plan, they will be operating it by July."

"Good," Jan said.

That dealt with, she left.

"So, what's the deal on the forge, Lee?" Dad asked.

"Well, they agreed to a five-year lease, starting from today. It is at eight hundred a month with them responsible for all upkeep and repairs. They got six months rent-free and another six months at half rent as a contribution to the cost of refurbishment and tooling of the forge."

"Tooling?" asked Dad. Lee had to explain what that meant. He had clearly learnt something from the ladies this morning. I guessed he had also looked some things up as he told Dad a whole lot more than they told us when Luuk and I were there.

"Ah, I see," Dad said. "I must say I would never have made that deal."

Lee looked worried. Dad must have noticed as he continued. "I would have given them a straight two years rent-free to sort the place out. Jan's right, it is an eyesore. You did well, Lee.

"By the way, why don't you join us for dinner? I'm taking Gert and Luuk to the Crooked Man tonight so they can experience an English pub."

"Well, Simone is coming over as soon as she finishes on reception at the Hall," Lee said.

"Bring her along. I'm sure Anne will appreciate some female company."

"OK, I will. We were talking about eating at the Crooked Man, anyway. Simone is somewhat critical of my cooking."

"Alright then. Come over about half-six; I've booked a table at seven. I'd better ring Mary and ask her to make it bigger."

Lee stood up, packed away his tablet and got ready to leave.

"Before you go, Lee, did the potter chap talk to you about using the dojo?" I asked.

"Using the dojo? You mean he wants to come along and train?"

"No, he said he and his sister were trained in martial arts but needed somewhere to practice," I told him.

"No, he hasn't, but to be honest, I've been up in my apartment all afternoon since I finished sorting out the lease for Marion and Jessie. Been studying my OU stuff."

"Who are Marion and Jessie?" Dad asked.

"The women who are taking the forge; they're friends of Matt," Lee replied.

"Women blacksmiths?"

"Yes, Mike, and I looked them up; they're highly rated in their business."

Lee and Simone did join us in the Crooked Man for dinner. I was surprised to find that Simone spoke Dutch, though she assured me it was only a bit.

"My cousin Henrik lives in Antwerp, which is in the Flemish part of Belgium. Dutch and Flemish are very similar, and I have picked up a bit of Flemish during my visits there."

After the meal and once we were back at the Priory, Luuk told me that Simone spoke a lot more than a bit of Dutch. In his opinion, she was reasonably fluent, though he did admit it was Flemish rather than Dutch she was speaking.

The next morning, I was woken just after five with the sound of people moving around. I wondered what was going on, then remembered that Gert and Luuk needed to be at the airport for seven for their early flights to Amsterdam. I pitied Lee, who had the job of taking them to the airport.

I tried to turn over and go back to sleep, but it proved to be impossible, so I got up, showered and dressed. Getting down to the kitchen, I was just in time to say goodbye before Lee took Gert and Luuk off for their flight. I noticed they were each taking one of the aluminium cases with them. Dad explained that they were taking the drone and the handheld cameras.

"What's happening to the rest of the stuff?" I asked.

"One of the professional camera kits, the one with the long-range lens, we are keeping here. Lee thinks we may have a use for it. We are also keeping the sound-recording kit. Gert already has a sound studio over there in his flat in Rotterdam and has some recording kit, so he did not need it. The second professional camera and lighting kit will be couriered over to them. Lee will be sorting that out when he gets back."

Dad then asked me what my schedule was for the day. I said I had a class this morning, then a driving lesson but was free this afternoon. My other classes have been cancelled due to exams.

"You might want to think about getting your hair tidied up," he suggested.

"Why?" I asked. I noticed he did not say get it cut.

"Well, you are going to the Palace on Thursday."

Shit! I had forgotten about that. Dad went on to remind me that he would be taking me into Chelmsford tomorrow to pick up our morning suits. The suit-hire place would want us to try them on and do any final fit before we took them.

"How are we going to get there in them? I asked. "I don't fancy going in on the train in a monkey suit."

"You won't have to," Dad assured me. "First, Lee is going to drive us in on Thursday morning. I really did not want to fight for space on a commuter train going into Town along with luggage, which we would have to do if we were to be at the Palace on time. Second, I have reserved a room at Bertram's Hotel; they are close to the Palace and used to this sort of arrangement. We will have a room where we will be able to change into our suits and leave our stuff while we are at the investiture. It will be available for us from eight-thirty till two."

"Just hope the investiture does not overrun," I commented.

"It won't. They are used to running these things and want it all over and done with before one so pictures can be shown on the one o'clock news."

As I was up early, I decided to make a full English breakfast for everybody. Dad told me to leave it for at least an hour; Mum was not up yet, and he had no intention of trying to wake her.

I took Dad's advice and, after my driving lesson, went down into Dunford and got my hair tidied up. The hairdresser was a bit surprised when I said I wanted nothing taken off the length. I am proud of how long my hair is these days, hanging a good six inches below my shoulders. She did, though, do a good job of tidying it up, and I must admit it looked a lot neater tied back in a ponytail.

Tuesday after class, Dad met me and took me into Chelmsford so we could go to Moss Bros. to pick up our morning suits that we had to wear for the Palace function. I thought it was a bit unfair. All the men had to dress the same. The women could dress how they liked, provided they stuck to some basic rules: long sleeves, no low-cut necklines, and an at-least-knee-length skirt. Outside of that, they had a free hand, except they had to wear a hat. Even there, they had a choice; we had to wear a top hat.

I spent a good hour that evening on the phone complaining to Joseph about the unfairness of it all. Joseph laughed. I asked him what had happened to women's equality. Surely that worked both ways. I was informed that I was delusional. Did I really expect women to give up on something where they held the superior position? I could see his point.

Wednesday was another half-day at college due to exams. Fortunately, both Mum and I had mornings only, and we both had early classes, so there was no problem getting home. It was raining, so I had not used the moped, preferring to cadge a lift.

The rain had stopped shortly after ten, and by time we got home at twelve, the sun had come out and things were drying up, so I went to see how Jim and Steven were doing. I know they had been busy over the weekend but had not had a chance to chat with them since. As I was walking down to the walled garden, I noticed Marius unloading a van. I went and asked if he needed a hand as he seemed to be struggling a bit.

"Thanks, I could do with one. Normally, Irene is around to help, but she's had to go up to London, so I am on my own today."

I helped him carry a couple of boxes into the studio. It was something of a surprise when we carried the last box in, which was fairly heavy. Marius immediately opened it and started to unpack unglazed dishes. I made a comment about it. Marius pointed out that he sold stuff as hand-decorated, not handmade.

"Johnny, I'm a ceramic artist. My skill in is decorating pottery, mixing glazes to get special effects. Yes, I can throw a pot, and I do that a lot, but I could never throw enough to keep the business going with the prices I am able to charge for the stuff I throw. So, I buy ready-made pieces and just decorate them. I'm careful to make sure they are clearly marked as hand-decorated, not as handmade. The handmade pieces are kept separate from the hand-decorated stuff."

I looked at the shelving on the other side of the studio and saw he was correct. There were clear signs saying hand-decorated by Marius Colberg. There were others saying handmade by Marius or Irene Colberg.

I left Marius after he had thanked me for my help and made my way down to the walled garden. Jim and Steven were getting ready to open.

"You looked busy when I came by Sunday morning," I said after our initial greetings.

"We were," Jim replied. "I think we are going to have to look at getting some help in, if only to man the till. Took nearly two grand on Sunday. Did nearly as much on Saturday."

"The only problem is, as you know, we are running low on stock," Steven interjected.

"I thought you were getting another load in from Holland," I said.

"We are, but at the moment we cannot get a firm delivery date. All we can do is pray they get it here before the bank holiday," Steven replied.

"What's the problem with the delivery?" I asked.

"Well, our order only makes up a part load," Jim said. "Until the wholesaler gets another part-load order or two, he cannot make up a full load to send across."

"Can't you order more?" I asked, thinking they were selling more than they expected.

"We could," Jim confirmed. "The thing is, if we go for a bigger order, we do not have enough space to store it when it comes."

Remembering the job we had to jam everything in last time we unloaded a delivery, I could understand the problem. So, I changed subject.

"How're you managing in the caravan?" I asked Steven.

"OK. Not as nice as the apartment, but hopefully it won't be for that much longer."

"So work is starting again on the cottage?"

"Yes, Johnny, Uncle George signed the lease with your father last week. The planning approval went through on Friday. Jim's dad is getting a crew in to start work on it next week. The main part of the cottage will be ready in three to four weeks. It will be a bit longer for the extension to get finished, but we will be able to live in the main part whilst work is still going on with the extension."

"They've already got the kitchen sorted for us, so we are using that already," Jim added.

At one o'clock, customers started to arrive, so I left Jim and Steven to it.

Wednesday evening, I was going to go training with Lee and Simone in the dojo, but Mum advised against it. She pointed out that I did not want to turn up at the Palace with a black eye. I had had a couple from training but none recently. I did, though, go to watch. Whilst I was there, Marius and Irene came in and spoke to Lee. I presumed it was about them using the dojo, a fact that was confirmed to me by Lee down at the pub later.

Even though I only had a couple of pints of shandy on Wednesday night, going down to the pub had probably been a mistake. I had forgotten we had to be up at a ridiculous hour on Thursday morning. For some reason, Dad had decided that Lee was going to pick us up at quarter to seven to get us into London in time. I thought that was a bit early, especially as Mum had decided we were to have a good breakfast. We had to be in the kitchen by six so we could be fed. That meant being up at five-thirty. That's a time for going to bed, not getting up.

Why Dad had told Lee to pick us up at quarter to seven, I did not know. I had looked the trip up online, and the journey guide said it should take just over ninety minutes to get from Dunford to the hotel. It turned out that Dad was correct. I had forgotten I had looked the trip up late on Tuesday night, when what traffic at that time would be coming out of Town. This was a Thursday morning, and most traffic was going into Town, and there is a lot of congestion in the centre of London. The trip, which I had expected to take an hour and a half, took just over two hours. We got to the hotel a few minutes before nine.

Lee dropped us off at the front, then went to find somewhere to park the car. Dad had told him that there was a space reserved for it in a nearby car park. By the time Lee was back, both Dad and I were changed into our morning suits and were downstairs in the foyer of the hotel waiting for Mum. There were a few other men standing around, dressed in a similar style. I guessed they were also going to the investiture.

Lee insisted on getting photos of both Dad and me in our finery, then he got some of Mum when she came down. I must admit she looked stunning in a dark-blue, long-sleeved dress. She was wearing a triple row of pearls, which, I am sure, were from the Vorontsov jewels. Dad arranged to meet Lee outside the front of the Palace after the investiture. He said we should be out sometime between twelve-thirty and one.

That sorted, we joined the rest of the fancy-dressed mob on the short walk up to a side gate of the Palace, where, on production of our invitations, we were admitted to a room in one of the outer buildings. That is where we were checked in and then had to go through security. After that, we were sent along a passage to a large reception room where the investiture would take place. There were rows of seating for the guests. Each investee was allowed to bring two guests to the ceremony. Those of us who were to be invested with an honour, were secreted at the back of the room, out of sight. There, we were lined up in the order that we would be called to receive our honours. Each of us had a small bar fixed to our coats that the honour would be fixed to when it was presented.

At eleven o'clock precisely, the national anthem sounded, and the prince entered, taking his place at the front of the room at the side of a table on which the honours were laid out. An equerry stood by the table.

The chamberlain announced, "Mrs. Cynthia Melton, Order of the British Empire for services to the blind."

A tall, middle-aged woman who was at the front of the queue walked forward, curtsied to the prince. He took the medal handed to him by the equerry and affixed it to the bar on the woman's dress. Then he said a few words to her; she stepped back and, as we had all been directed, went off to the side. The next name was called, and the procedure was repeated.

What I had not realised is that I would be at the end of the queue. The order in which the honours were presented was in the reverse to their order of precedence. As there were no knighthoods, damehoods or either Victoria or George Cross being awarded at that investiture, I was highest on the order of precedence. Therefore, I came last.

Eventually my name was called. I went forward. Bowed and stood before the prince. He took the medal from the equerry and hung it on the bar. As he did so, he spoke in a low voice. "Personally, I think it should have been the cross, not the medal." With that he stepped back, I stepped back, bowed and exited to the side. In the side room, I was given the case for it. Then I joined Mum and Dad.

We exited the Palace via the yard, the area between the east façade of the Palace and the fence with its gates. What most people think of as the front of the Palace is, in actual fact, the back. The front of Buckingham Palace looks out over the gardens.

As we came out into the yard, there were press photographers and TV crews there, asking us to show our medals. I posed with Mum and Dad behind me holding my medal box open, showing the George Medal, something I really did not think I deserved. I had said as much to the prince at the reception following the investiture. He had informed me that probably meant I did deserve it. "The thing I've come to realise is that those who think they deserve what they have been awarded probably should not have it. It's those who don't think they deserve it who probably should have it; they probably should have something higher."

Lee was waiting for us outside the gate. He insisted on taking more photos, first of me just showing the medal in its box, then of the three of us with the Palace behind. Finally, a set of photos with the Wedding Cake behind us. I must have look puzzled when Lee said to stand so the Wedding Cake was behind us. I had never heard the Victoria Monument called that before. Dad said it was a common name for it, especially amongst the press. Just shows how much I know.

We got back to the hotel and changed back into more normal clothes. Dad put everything into a wheeled case which we had brought with us, and Lee took that to the car while we walked up to Maidens Lane and to Rule's. Lee said he would see us there. Dad had reserved a table for lunch. I was surprised to see all three uncles when we arrived. I was even more surprised to see that Lee had got there before us. When I mentioned the fact to him, he informed me he had cheated and taken a taxi.

It would have been nice if we could have had a long leisurely lunch, but that was not on the cards. Uncle Bernard had to be in court at two, though he did not have far to walk to get there. Uncles Phil and Ben were flying off to Madrid for a few days.

"Business or pleasure?" Dad asked.

"Business. We want to film the dog-fight sequences for Fly Boys in Spain. We are talking to the Spanish Air Force about it," Uncle Phil stated.

"Surely, they don't have Spitfires and Messerschmitts, do they?" I asked.

"Of course not, but they do have propeller trainers. They can create dog-fight sequences using prop trainers with identifying markings on them. Then the computer can replace the images of the trainers with the images of the correct type of plane."

"Why the Spanish Air Force? Surely ours has got prop trainers." I pointed out.

"It has; unfortunately, it also has English weather. The Battle of Britain took place in some of the best weather conditions this country has ever seen. We are more likely to get that in Spain than in England. Besides, one blue, sunny sky looks very much like another."

By the time Dad had paid the bill, it had gone two. Uncle Bernard had left about ten to two to get to the court. Lee had left at the same time, saying he would get the car and meet us. Dad had told him to meet us at the bottom of Charing Cross Road. As we walked down from Covent Garden towards Trafalgar Square, I noticed the front page of the Evening Standard that was on sale. My photo, displaying the medal, was there. Dad, of course, had to stop and buy multiple copies.

We got back to the Priory a bit after quarter past four. Dad thanked Lee for driving us around today and told him to take Friday off. He added that he intended to do so, as well. Mum invited Lee to join us for dinner, saying it would only be beefburger and chips. Lee declined, saying he had a date with Simone and was eating at the Hall.

Mum laughed and wished him well.

It was not only on the front page of the Standard that my image was shown. There was also a clip of me getting the medal on the evening TV news. I had not even been aware that there was a camera there. As Mum said, they must have been very discreet. There was also a shot of me posing for the press when we came out of the Palace.

Of course, the moment the news finished, Joseph rang. I had to give him a complete, second-by-second account of what happened at the Palace. Then I had to tell him about the lunch, then about the drive home. I really wanted to ask him about his search for Lex Klein but never got around to it. Just when I was about to raise the subject, he informed me that Uncle Bernard was calling him, and he had to go.

If I had been hoping that the investiture on the seventh was the end of the Henderson affair, I was sadly disappointed. It seemed to be the main topic of conversation when I got to college the next day. For a bunch of mostly sixteen-to twenty-year-olds, they appear to watch an awful lot of news. From the moment I arrived, people were coming up to me and congratulating me. They were also asking me what the prince had said to me. One thing we had been warned about at the Palace before the investiture was that our conversations with the prince were confidential and should not be discussed with anyone. Complying with the rule upset a lot of people. I ended up just saying he said nothing really, except 'Well done'. I did not say anything about the small reception after the investiture.

As so many of our maths classes had been cancelled because of the exams, Mr. Taunton had called a double maths period this morning rather than the normal single period. He also fully loaded it. I think we got through enough work for three, if not four, periods. It was the same with physics. I was glad to get out at three. I did not need a lift home as I was on my moped.

I was surprised when I got to the Priory to see Lee in the MCP offices as I knew Dad had given him the day off. Going into the offices, I asked him why he was working on his day off.

"Not working, at least not for your dad. Doing my OU work. It's a lot easier to do it on the monitors in here than on the small screen of my laptop.

"Oh, by the way, Colin is looking for you."

That surprised me as I expected him to be at his psychologist's appointment this afternoon. I went up to the Stable House apartment and rang the doorbell. Colin answered.

"Lee said you were looking for me."

"I was. Come in," Colin said. There was something different about him. Then I realised he had glasses on.

"I see you got your glasses," I commented. "Any good?"

"They're fucking brilliant. I can actually see the road ahead when I'm cycling now. And I can read if I put the other pair on." He went over to the table by the chair and picked up another pair of glasses. I noticed there was a book on the table.

"Good. I'm glad they worked out for you. How come you're not at your psychologist's?" I asked.

"She's moved me to once a week as of Wednesday, though she is going to do a longer session with me. I told Steve, but he has already done the work schedule till August and put me down for Wednesday and Friday afternoons off."

That I could understand. From now till the end of August was the busiest time for the yard. It would probably take in about seventy percent of its turnover and a good ninety percent of its profit in the four months from the start of May to the end of August. Typically, a weekend sailor who has pranged his boat, wanted it repaired for when he came down the next weekend and was prepared to pay extra for faster service.

"So, what were you looking for me for?" I asked.

"This came for me today, but I do not know what it means." He handed me a letter.

I could see it was from the Court and Tribunal Service. Reading through it, I could see why Colin could not understand what it meant. I was having difficulty knowing what it meant.

"Has Martin spoken to you about this?" I asked.

"No, I've not heard from him since the last time I saw him with you."

That surprised me as I was sure that as Colin's solicitor, Martin would have got a copy of the same letter. I had passed Martin's place on the way home from Southmead and was fairly certain that his car had been on the drive, so in all likelihood he was working from home. I phoned his mobile. It went straight to voicemail. I decided to give it fifteen minutes and try again. Same result.

I phoned Uncle Bernard's office, as I knew that they had one of those fancy phone systems which could redirect a phone call to any landline phone. Very useful when Uncle Bernard was working from home. The system put callers through to his home phone. I guessed they could do the same with Martin.

It came as something of a surprise when the receptionist informed me that Martin was out of the country. That being the case, I asked to speak to Uncle Bernard. At first, she was a bit reluctant to put me through, but eventually she did. I knew at once that Uncle Bernard was working from home. I could hear the sound of Joseph on a video game faintly in the background.

I explained the situation to Uncle Bernard. He asked me to read the letter. I did.

"Well, I'll have to get Martin's clerk to fax me a copy; it should be with Martin's stuff. From what you have said, it appears the Crown Court has been advised by the CPS that they will not be objecting to the appeal. In fact, they are supporting it. As a result, it's going to be nodded through. That being the case, they have decided to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, probably so they can make their list look shorter. So, they are hearing it on Thursday. Unfortunately, Martin is in the States doing some work for your father. He will not be back till next weekend, and I am in the High Court all day on Thursday. I will have to get somebody else to represent Colin, not that he will need much representation. Can you be there with him?"

I really should be in college studying for my exams, but I agreed that I would be. Bernard said he would see if June Ravensbrook could represent Colin.

"She knows that court, and she knows something about the case. It was June who gave us the opinion that Colin had been charged with the wrong offence."

"When will you know?" I asked.

"I'll contact her clerk as soon as I finish this call, though doubt I'll have a decision till Monday. She'll have finished for the weekend by now, and the clerk will want to discuss it with her. Rest assured, we'll have someone there for Colin."

That said, we ended the call, and I explained what was going on to Colin. He thanked me, especially when I told him I would go to court with him.

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