Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 38

"What do you mean, 'lives there'?" Mv. de Vries asked. "Nobody lives there; people stay there for their vacations."

"No, Wim lives there; he has the basement flat," Luuk replied. "I lived in it till Easter. Wim said his uncle let him have it."

"There is no basement flat," Mv de Vries informed Luuk. "The basement is part of the ground-floor studio. We do not have the permits for it to be used for residential accommodation."

"That may be," Luuk said. "All I can say is I lived there with Wim from October last year till he threw me out in April. I know he's been there for at least two years."

"Bloody hell!" she swore. In English! People normally swear in their native language, which explained why she had continued to speak English to Luuk.

"You're not Dutch, are you?" I asked.

"No, love, I'm from Bermondsey. Mum and Dad came over from Jamaica on the Windrush in 1948 to work in the UK. I came to Amsterdam thirty years ago for a week's holiday with the girls from the hospital where I worked. We had all just qualified as State Registered Nurses. Met Piet, my husband — he's a doctor — in the second coffee shop we went into. Never went back to Bermondsey."

"I gather there is a problem with this Wim living in the basement," I stated.

"Yes, he should not be there, and I am going to have to do something about it. You see, Johnny, in the Netherlands there are different types of permits for different types of accommodation. It's similar to the planning permissions in the UK. The ground floor and basement of the building are permitted for office/studio use only, not for residential use. This is something I am going to have to sort out with the tenants of the ground-floor offices."

"Could we look at the rest of the building first?" I asked.

"Of course. Come on, let's get over there." With that she led off, Luuk and I followed, trying to keep up without running. She was a tall lady with a long stride.

The building was tall and narrow. On the right-hand side was a set of steps that led up to a door. On the left-hand side there was another door, this time at street level. Between them was a fenced area in front of a basement, with a set of steps leading down to it. I made a comment about the two doors.

"That one," Mv. de Vries explained, indicating the ground-level door, "leads to a passageway that goes through to the garden and the achter huis. The door into the studio is off the passageway."

"Achter huis?" I asked.

"It translates as back house," Mv. de Vries informed me. "Actually, it is a rear extension that a lot of these houses have. Sometimes, it is a self-contained building; other times, it is just an extension of the main house.

"Well, we'd better go up and have a look at your property." With that, she unlocked the door at the top of the steps. The door led into a short hallway, beyond which was a staircase leading up to the first floor. There was a landing on the first floor with two doors going off it and another staircase continuing up. Mv. de Vries opened the nearest of the two doors, leading us into what I can only describe as a depressingly gloomy apartment at the rear of the building. A dark, narrow hallway ran through to the back of the house. On the left side of the hallway were two doors; above each was a window to allow stolen light into the room beyond. Not that there was much light in the hallway. Mv. de Vries opened the first doorway, and we looked into what was supposed to be a double bedroom. Well, you could just barely fit a double bed in it. Not much else. The same was true of the room next to it. The end the hallway opened out into a shallow sitting room which spanned the whole width of the house but was not much more than eight-feet deep. A door in the corner led off to a kitchen and beyond that a bedroom. Looking around, I could see why we did not get much repeat business. I made a comment to that effect to Mv. de Vries.

"A fact that I have pointed out to the letting company a number of times," she replied.

"I thought you were with the letting company," I stated.

"Oh, no. I work for the property-management agents; the holiday apartments are leased to a local, holiday-letting company on a fee plus a percentage of the holiday rental. They manage and let the holiday flats; they are also responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of them," she informed me.

The rest of the apartments were no better, at least, that is, until we got to the top floor. There, high in the roof was the studio apartment. It ran from the front to the back of the building. The stairs from the floor below were more like a steep ladder, coming up about halfway along the length of the room. The room was long and narrow — not much more than eight feet — and a lot of that was hardly usable due to the slope of the roof. It was bright, though. There were skylights along each side of the roof and a window at each end. The room had a cubical at the side by the rear window which contained the toilet and a shower, though there was no way anyone over five-six could stand upright in the shower, tucked as it was under the roof.

Having seen the apartments, we were led back down by Mv. de Vries, then out the front door and back in through the second door. Off to our right was a glass door with what I took to be a company name on it. The passageway led through to the back, where there was a surprisingly large garden. Sticking out of the back of the house to one side was the achter huis, which rose three stories. I realised, then, why the back apartments on the upper floors had been single-bedroom. The space had been taken by the achter-huis bathroom and kitchen.

The garden was tidy but clearly not loved. One thing struck me immediately; I could not see how the occupants of the apartments could access the garden.

"Mevrouw de Vries, how do the people in the apartments get to the garden?"

"Oh, please call me Judy; Mevrouw de Vries makes me feel ancient, as if you are talking to my husband's mother."

I agreed I would but insisted she call me Johnny.

"The thing is, they don't use the gardens," she stated. "That's probably why the letting agents don't do much with them."

"It seems a shame," I commented. "I think this could be a nice garden."

"Definitely," she stated. "I'll take you to see a garden at a property I manage a bit further down the Herengracht. It is magnificent."

"Any idea what I should do with this place?" I asked. I was half expecting her to tell me to sell it. The amount of income it was bringing in was paltry, all things considered.

"Demolish the achter huis and replace it with stairs and a lift structure, probably in glass, to reach the four floors of flats. You can't take it up to the studio at the top unfortunately. Then get rid of the holiday apartments and turn them each floor into a single luxury apartment. Sitting room at the front, master bedroom at the back," she said. "You could get a lot more income if you updated them into top-of-the-range holiday flats, but that would cost considerably more. I think the return—"

Just then, I heard somebody shouting in Dutch. Luuk, who was standing by the entrance into the garden, was looking down the passage, scared.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"That I would like to know," Judy said, and she started to walk over towards Luuk. At that moment, Wim emerged into the garden and took a swing at Luuk, which missed. Luuk had picked up something when he had come to watch us in the dojo.

Judy shouted something in Dutch. I could not see what was happening as she was blocking my view of Wim completely and my view of Luuk partly. There followed an exchange in Dutch, in which I could make out the odd word, but I could make sense of nothing. Feeling exasperated at not knowing what was going on, I decided to find out, so walked across to where Judy and Luuk were standing. Wim was shouting at Judy and pointing at Luuk.

"Would somebody tell me what is going on here?" I asked.

"You're here!" Wim said in English, a look of surprise on his face.

"Yes, why wouldn't I be?"

"This is my garden; you have no right to be here. He should not have brought you here," Wim stated, pointing at Luuk.

"He didn't. I brought him here in case I needed a translator."

"Why should you bring him here? What right have you to come here?"

"Because it's my property, Wim. I own it, the whole fucking building. Now, why are you here?"

"I live here," Wim stated.

"Where?" I asked.

"In the flat," Wim replied.

"Which flat?"

"The one in the basement," Wim replied.

"Is that so?" Judy asked. "It that case, I suggest you go and start packing. The basement is not authorised for residential use, so you have no right to live there. It is part of the office/studio on the ground floor. Allowing you to live there is a breach of the terms of the lease."

Wim turned white. There was an exchange of words in Dutch, and Wim looked distinctly unhappy.

"Look, would somebody tell me what's going on?" I said.

Judy turned to me. "Sorry, Johnny, things are a bit of a mess. It seems that Wim has been renting the basement from his uncle and using it as a residential apartment. That is a breach of his uncle's lease on the office/studio. First, his uncle is not allowed to sublet; second, he is not permitted to use the basement for residential use."

"Why not?" I asked. Judy gave me a detailed explanation of why it was not possible; apparently it came down to the safety of the exits from the property.

"Well, for a start, Judy, you will have to tell Wim's uncle that the lease on the office/studio is not going to be renewed when it comes up for renewal." Wim started to protest that it had been his idea to live in the basement. "Wim, this has nothing to do with you living in the basement. How much rent were you paying?"

Wim told me. It seemed a lot, so I asked Judy about it.

"Well, it is about right for around here — a bit on the high side for a basement flat, but not excessively so."

"Wim, I am going to redevelop the whole building, that is why your uncle's lease will not be renewed. During the redevelopment, I will ensure that the basement is brought up to whatever requirements there are to make it acceptable for residential accommodation. Until that is done, you can't live there. You will have to find somewhere else to live. However, when it is done, I will make sure that you have first offer on the place.

"Judy, can you make sure you have Wim's contact details?"

Judy looked at me puzzled, as did Luuk. Then Judy started to speak to Wim in Dutch and made some notes in the folder she was carrying. Wim was still looking worried.

"Judy, who is in trouble if the authorities find out that Wim is living in the basement?" I asked.

"Well, it would be whoever is letting him live there," Judy answered.

"Which is not us," I pointed out. Judy nodded. I continued, "Are we under any obligation to report the fact?"

"No, though we should advise his uncle about the breach of the lease conditions," she stated.

"Fine, do that, but until your uncle has to give up the lease, I see no reason you need to move out, Wim." He looked at me surprised. "That should give you time to find alternative accommodation.

"Now I'm dying for a drink, so Luuk, is there a place near here where we can get a drink and I can discuss plans with Judy?" Luuk said there was, so I told him to lead the way. Judy and I followed, leaving a rather puzzled Wim behind.

Luuk led us down the Herengracht a bit, then turned into a side street and into what seemed to be an alley. There was a small café with a couple of tables outside, both occupied. Fortunately, there were free tables inside, so we went in and took one.

Judy ordered a tea. I opted for a cola with plenty of ice; Luuk followed my example.

"Judy, how much would it cost to get an estimate to redevelop that property as luxury flats?" I asked.

"I can tell you that," she stated. "In January last year, I was reviewing the property portfolios for all my clients. I made some recommendations to your uncles, but they informed me they did not have the funds available to fund it."

"How much was needed?" I asked.

"Two- to three-hundred-thousand euros," Judy stated.

"No, they wouldn't have had the funds at that time last year; they were in the middle of financing the film Uncle Phil was producing. Every spare penny they had was tied up in that. So, Judy, what were your recommendations."

"I have them right here," she said, opening her satchel and pulling out a set of drawings which she unfolded and spread across the table. She also had a couple of artist's impressions of what could be done. For the next twenty minutes, she described in detail what work was required and how it would be done. It turned out that these buildings along the canal had the same status as a grade-two-star-listed building had in the UK. There were a lot of things you were not allowed to do with them.

"What do you think, Luuk?" I asked, wanting to get his architectural input on things.

"I think you are missing a trick," he stated.

"What?" Judy asked.

"The fifth-floor studio; you're not doing anything with it," Luuk stated.

"There's not much we can do with it. We can't extend the lift tower up that high. Anyway, it is too small to be made into a luxury accommodation," she stated.

"Yes, that's true," Luuk replied. "However, if you incorporate it into the fourth-floor flat, you can use the space as a master-bedroom suite, giving you a three-bedroom flat."

Judy looked at the plans for a second. The she looked across at Luuk. "That's genius."

"Right, that's what we will do, Judy," I stated. "How soon could the redevelopment get started?"

"We will have to get Wim's uncle out, but his lease expires end of June. I am supposed to be meeting him next week to discuss renewal."

"He's going to be a bit disappointed then, isn't he?" I stated. "What about the holiday-letting people?"

"We have grounds for termination there as they have not maintained the property to the required standard. Actually, I wrote to them about that back in February, but they clearly have not done anything, so we have good grounds to terminate them. We will have to give two months' notice."

"Well, I'd better check that the funding is available. It should be, but I need to make certain," I stated. I pulled out my mobile and phoned Uncle Bernard. I was lucky; he was in his office, and I got put straight through to him."

"Hello, Johnny, what can I do for you?" he asked when his receptionist put me through.

"I need some money; I think it will have to come out of the Yaland fund," I told him.

"How much?"

"To be on the safe side, three-hundred thousand."

"What for?" he asked. I told him, not in detail, just the outline. I then asked him if there was a problem using funds from one trust to improve the assets of another?

"As long as the overall benefit is for you, there is no problem, Johnny. Actually, your uncles discussed the refurbishment of the Amsterdam property with me beginning of last year. They were all for the proposal that Mrs. de Vries had laid out and letting her manage it, but all their funds were going into That Woman's Son, so they did not have the spare cash available to do it and were averse to borrowing as they needed their credit lines in case they did not get funding for the film."

"So, you would support funding it?" I asked.

"In principle, yes. I would need to see detailed proposals and a cost/benefit analysis, but from what I remember of the figures the agent sent over for us to look at, I think they were good."

As I had those figures in front of me, I could confirm they were. It looked like we could recoup the development costs in six to seven years, depending on what the final cost was. I pointed out to Uncle Bernard that some upfront money would be required to redraw the plans and do final estimates and such, plus put in for the required permissions. Uncle Bernard wanted to know how much, so I asked Judy, who told me that fifteen-thousand euros should cover that. I so informed Uncle Bernard.

"That's no problem," he informed me. "We don't have to go to the trust for that. There is a good fifty grand sitting in the property-holding company that you own the Dutch properties through. The costs can be covered from that."

"Why is there fifty grand sitting in the holding company?" I asked.

"To cover situations like this," Uncle Bernard replied. "I'll tell you more when I see you next; it is a bit complicated, having to do with tax liabilities and things. Tell Mrs. de Vries that I will arrange a transfer of fifteen-thousand euros, assuming she is interested in managing the project; it should be with her in a couple of days. She can let me know when she needs more. In the meantime, I'd better talk to your father and let him know you are spending money."

I exchanged some pleasantries with Uncle Bernard and asked how Joseph was. He told me that he had his head deep in textbooks. Apparently, he did not think he had done very well with his first exam last week. That surprised me; Joseph had not indicated anything like that to me when we had spoken.

That done, I cut the call to Uncle Bernard and started to sort out details of what I wanted and asked Judy if she was willing to manage the project at the figure proposed in the plans she had developed. She was. I went along with Luuk's idea about incorporating the roof studio into the fourth-floor flat as a master suite. I also wanted the basement brought up to a level where it could be used for residential accommodation. The main problem so far as I could make out was the lack of a second exit to the outside from the property. Judy did not think that it would be possible to build an exit up to the garden at the rear of the basement.

"Probably not to the garden," Luuk agreed. "However, you could turn these stairs around." He indicated the stairs that led down from the office/studio into the basement. "And have them come up into an enclosed space against this wall, then a door into the passageway."

Judy pointed out that it would effectively split the office/studio space into two rooms. That, I thought, might actually be an advantage. I suggested to Judy that for the time being she should go with it. I also said that I wanted that bit of work done first, so we could offer the basement flat back to Wim as quickly as possible.

Luuk looked at me puzzled. I told him I would explain later. I then discussed the logistics of getting new plans and costings drawn up. Judy said she had a firm of architects available to do them for us, the same ones, who had drawn up what was now before us. I said that was fine, but I wanted Luuk to look over anything that was produced before it was submitted. I told Luuk I would pay him on the same basis as my dad did.

It was now getting on for four, and Judy stated she had to get back to her office. We said our goodbyes, and Judy left. She went off down the Herengracht. Luuk and I made our way up towards the Dam. I had already asked Luuk to join me for dinner that evening as I did not intend to get the train back to Hilversum till late. That being the case, I asked Luuk to show me some more of Amsterdam. For the next few hours, except for when we stopped at one bar or another for a drink, we roamed around Amsterdam, with Luuk telling me about the places there, particularly about the buildings. He could talk interestingly about the history and architecture of the buildings that surrounded us as we walked along the canals.

That gave me an idea, one I would have to discuss with Dad.

Eventually, we ended up at a small restaurant, somewhat off the tourist drag, that Luuk recommended.

"You've been here before, then," I said.

"No way. I can't afford this place, though I know Gert has been here a couple of times with De heer Wilhelm, and he does not go to establishments with a poor reputation."

"Or cheap ones," I commented, glancing at the prices on the menu mounted by the door. Despite that, I led the way in. It turned out that we were supposed to have reserved tables. Luuk spoke rapidly to the maître d' in Dutch, and I heard the name De heer Wilhelm mentioned. I also heard Uncle Phil's stage name mentioned. We were asked to wait for a few moments, and there was some rearrangement of tables.

"What did you say?" I asked Luuk as we were shown to a table for two overlooking the harbour.

"I just said that you were the son of Mike Carlton, the man who wrote the climate-change book and the nephew of Matthew Lewis and that De heer Wilhelm had asked me to bring you here whilst I was showing you Amsterdam."

"Name-dropping clearly works," I stated.

"Well, De heer Wilhelm did suggest I bring you here," Luuk responded.


"At the wrap party on Sunday.

"Now you were going to tell me why you are letting Wim have that flat. You know what he did to me."

"I know. I also know he goes to the same university that you are going to and is what, a year, two years ahead of you?"

"Yes, he's eighteen months ahead of me. He missed a half year and has not made it up."

"I presume architecture over here is very much like it is in the UK; first you have to do your degree, then get your master's and then your professional qualification."

"That's right."

"Well, most of your time at university you are going to have Wim there, a year or so ahead of you. The last thing you want is him bearing grudges against you. If he thought you had been responsible for him losing his flat, he would have borne a massive grudge against you. Yes, he is losing his flat, but that has nothing to do with you; it's because I'm redeveloping the property. I am giving him first chance to get it when it does come back on the market and to get it legally. That is if he can afford the new rent."

The food was delicious, but the portions were small; however, there were twelve courses in the taster menu we had. Unlike the portions, the bill was massive, two-hundred-and-thirty-five euros, though seventy-five euros of that was the wine.

Luuk saw me back to the station, and I got on the train to Hilversum and was back in the hotel apartment by quarter-to-ten.

"Good day?" Dad asked as I entered.

"Yes," I replied, handing Mum a box of chocolates I had purchased for her at the station.

"Bernard called me," Dad continued. "Apparently, you want to spend some money. Care to tell me about it?"

"About what Uncle Bernard knows about or the other?" I asked.

"What other?"

"Well, I had an idea walking around Amsterdam with Luuk," I told Dad. "I am prepared to back it with some of the unallocated funds from the Yaland payout."

"Well, if you're going to start talking about projects and things, I'm going to bed," Mum stated. "Need an early night; have to be up early in the morning."

"Why?" I asked.

"Going into Apeldoorn to meet Betty," she stated. It took me a moment or two to think who Betty was. Then I remembered. She was the lady who ran the vakantie parc in Beekbergen. Mum had gotten friendly with her while we were there. Dad said he would not be long as he had an early start in the morning. Mum just huffed at that statement.

"How much are you thinking, and what is the idea?" Dad asked.

"I think a few hundred thousand, but you will probably have a better idea. The thing is listening to Luuk talking about architecture. Well, he makes it interesting and exciting. Make a TV series of him; he can do it in Dutch and English — probably in French and German, knowing him. I'm sure there would be a market for it."

Dad nodded, then asked some questions. When I had answered them, he pulled out his phone and called Lee. Apparently, he was down in the bar talking with Gert as Dad asked Lee to bring Gert up with him.

They arrived about ten minutes later. Dad asked Gert what Luuk was like on the history of architecture.

"He's good; at least, I think he is. He's always telling me about the history of the building around us — who designed what and when and why," Gert said.

Dad told me to tell them about my idea, so I did.

"It could work," Gert stated.

"How are we fixed for the rest of the filming?" Dad asked Gert.

"Well, the last of the planned, green-screen shots should be finished in the morning," Gert stated. "We need to do a few extra to cover for some outside shots that did not quite work, though we plan to try over-dubbing those on Friday morning. All told, we will be finished by midday Friday."

"But we are booked in here till Sunday, right?" Dad asked.

"Yes," Gert confirmed.

"Right. First, Gert, can you speak to your brother and explain the idea and see if he is interested?" Dad asked.

"He'd be a bloody idiot if he's not," Gert stated. "I'll call him now."

"Best leave it till the morning. Let's see what we can work out first, then you can give him a clearer picture."

Gert nodded in response to Dad's suggestion.

"Now, what equipment would we need to do a quick trial shoot?" Dad asked.

Gert told Dad what would be required. I noted that Lee was making notes.

"What have we got?" Dad asked. It was Lee who gave the answer, going through the list he had made and ticking off things as he named them and said if we had had them. Turned out the only things we didn't have were stabilizers and reflectors. Gert expressed the opinion we would probably need filming permits if we were using reflectors as we would need stands for them, which would block footpaths. That's why we need stabilizers, any shooting we did in Amsterdam would have to be either handheld or shoulder mounted. If we started to use tripods and such gear, we would need permits.

"It's a pity we can't do any interiors," Lee said.

"I don't see why not," I stated. Everybody looked at me. "Look, I own a house on the Herengracht, and Luuk was talking about the interior, about how much of it was original. We could get in there and film."

"Can you sort that?" Dad asked.

"I'll phone the agent in the morning; need to speak to her, anyway. Are you OK with the money coming out of my private trust, Dad?"

"Yes, I spoke to Bernard, and he told me Ben and Phil had wanted to do it but did not have the funds at the time; I told him to go ahead. Approved three-hundred grand with a hundred-grand reserve, if needed."

"Thanks, Dad, I'll tell Judy to go ahead."

"If we're filming indoors, we will need to take lights," Gert stated. "The lighting rig we've got for the interviews is not really suitable; you will need more flood lighting and something portable."

"What do you suggest?" Dad asked.

"Well, you will have to go into Amsterdam to get the stabilizers you need for the cameras if we are handholding them for the shots, so you might as well see if you can get some of the new LED based flood lights. They are battery- operated. Just get plenty of batteries. You will probably need a couple of backpacks, as well, to carry the accessories in."

There was about an hour's more discussion. There could probably have been much more, but Gert did point out that he and Dad had to be in the studio at seven in the morning. Gert made a list of what needed to be bought, and Dad told Lee to go into Amsterdam with me in the morning to get it. He then went online and transferred ten grand onto my debit card for me. There were three different transfers done from three different accounts, two of three-thousand five hundred and one of three thousand, keeping them all under the daily total limit for instant transfers. Fortunately, I had registered this time that I would be using my debit card overseas.

Gert wrote out detailed instructions for us on how to get to the specialist-equipment shop that we needed to visit to get the stuff.

By the time, I got up on Thursday morning, Dad had long gone to the studio. Why they had to have such early starts for studio work, I do not know, probably just something about the TV industry. They are used to it. There was, though, a note left for me, saying that Gert had spoken to Luuk and he was all for the idea, so it was a go. I was to go into Amsterdam with Lee and get the equipment we needed.

Just after nine, I phoned Judy's office and asked to speak to her. First, I confirmed that funding was available for the renovation of the Herengracht property. I then asked her about getting access to the property on Saturday. She wanted to know why, so I explained about filming a pilot to test out an idea for the series on architecture.

"Johnny, it will be a bit difficult to use the Herengracht property," she explained. "Most of the flats will be let over the weekend; people arrived on Friday and will leave on Monday."

"Blast! Not thought of that," I replied.

"However, I have an idea," Judy stated. "We manage a property further down the Herengracht from your place. It is vacant at the moment as it is undergoing refurbishment, but that is due to be completed on Friday. I know I can get you permission to film there as it's been used as TV set in the past. Though it will cost."

"How much?" I asked.

"Can't be sure but doubt it will be over five hundred."

"That's doable," I stated, thinking of the money Dad had transferred to me last night.

"Good. I'll get on it and sort something out. Are you likely to be in Amsterdam before the weekend? It would be helpful to go over a couple of things and, if possible, for you could meet with the architects."

I told Judy that I was coming into Amsterdam this morning with Lee and agreed to meet with her for lunch. She said she would try get the architect she was looking at using to come along. Judy also suggested that after lunch we could look at the property she had in mind for us to use for the filming.

That organised, I sent Luuk a text to see if he would be free to join us for lunch. I also told him about using a different property on the Herengracht, and we would be looking at it possibly in the afternoon. That done, Lee and I started to walk to the station. Lee was carrying a fairly heavy backpack which contained one of the shoulder-mounted cameras and one of the handheld cameras. Gert said we needed to take them in with us to get the correct stabilisers. Apparently, it was all related to the weight of the camera. We had just got there when I got a text back from Luuk.

"Skipping classes this afternoon; will see you at lunch."

Given the weight that Lee was lugging around in the backpack I was tempted to take a taxi when we got to Amsterdam Centraal Station. However, Lee persuaded me that we should follow Gert's directions and take a tram. Probably a good job; I am not sure a taxi could have got to where we had to go. When we got there, I was not sure we were in the right place, though the satellite navigation on my phone said we were. The thing was, we were in a narrow side street with a lot of small shops, none of which seemed to have anything to do with cameras and film equipment.

Lee spotted a nameplate on one of the doorways between the shops. It had the name of the firm we were looking for on it, so I pressed the intercom button. After a bit of confusion, where I explained I did not speak Dutch — in very poor Dutch — I explained in English what we were looking for; the door buzzed, and we were admitted.

Beyond the door was a steep set of stairs that took us up to a first-floor showroom crammed with all sorts of photographic and film equipment. A middle-aged man greeted us at the top of the stairs and introduced himself as Aart Delfs. I explained to him what we were looking for. He examined the cameras that Lee had brought with him.

"The handhelds are no problem; we have a couple of different stabilizers that would fit them. It is a question of how much money you want to spend," Aart informed us in English.

I told him that we wanted whatever was the best. Aart smiled and told me that the best was not always the most expensive and depended on the use it was going to be put to. I must have shown that I did not really know what he was talking about.

"Take this, for example," he stated, walking over to a mannikin in the corner of the room that had strapped to it what, to me, looked like some torture device. "This can stabilise a camera up to twenty kilos in weight against forces up to five G. It costs just over three-thousand euros. I can assure you no cameraman in the business would want to be wearing it for more than thirty minutes — and less, if possible. It is heavy and uncomfortable to wear."

"Then why would you use it?" Lee asked.

"Well, there are some shots which you can only get using a rig like this. If you need to make that particular shot, then you need this rig. However, for the vast majority of filming, it is totally over the top."

I was beginning to see what he meant. For the next twenty minutes, we discussed what we were filming and the cameras we were using. At the end, Aart recommended three different stabilizers. For the shoulder-mounted cameras, he recommended we used the same stabilizer for both. However, for the handheld cameras he recommended we use two different stabilizers.

"The problem with stabilizers is that, although they keep the camera relatively stable for most shots, they can be a pain for certain types of shots. This stabilizer is not as good as the other one I recommended for the handheld. However, it is more forgiving for certain types of shots, especially vertical pans." That then led Aart into giving us both a lesson in film terminology. A horizontal pan was where you moved the camera from left to right or vice versa. A vertical pan was when you moved the camera up or down.

"One thing you could consider using is monopods," Aart informed us.

"What's a monopod?" Lee asked.

"It's like a tripod but only has one leg," Aart replied.

"What's the use of that?" I asked.

"Used properly, a monopod can supply nearly as much stability as a tripod," Aart stated. "More importantly it can often be used in situations where a tripod is not feasible or not advisable. For instance, it is a lot easier to use a monopod if you are working on a steep set of stairs. Again, there are a lot of places, especially in Amsterdam, where you need a permit to film if you are using a tripod but not if you are using a monopod."

We spent nearly an hour with Aart choosing the equipment we needed. The total cost was coming out to just under six-thousand euros. It was a good job that I had contacted my bank this morning to let them know that I would be making a big purchase on my debit card.

There was, though, one problem; they did not have most of what we needed in stock.

"I can get it from our warehouse this evening; it will be here for you in the morning."

"Damn! Another trip into Amsterdam, then," I said.

"Where about are you coming in from?" Aart asked.

"Hilversum," Lee told him.

"If you're in Hilversum, I can have the items delivered to you this evening; that's where our warehouse is," Aart informed us. I asked him if it would be possible to get some training on the equipment. Before we left, there was a five thousand five hundred Euro hit on my debit card. However, Aart had agreed to have the equipment with us at the hotel by seven and to spend two hours showing us how to use it. Dad could pay for that on his card. I sent Dad and Gert texts to let them know. What I did not tell them is that I had also purchased two wheeled, aluminium cases to put the kit in, including spaces for the cameras. That was something that Dad would be paying for along with the training.

Lee did have the sense to ask Aart how we got to the place where we were supposed to be meeting Judy for lunch.

"Easiest way is to turn left when you go out of the door, then go to the end of the road. At the end, turn left again and go down the road till you come to the canal. Then turn right and walk along the canal till you come to the first bridge. Cross the canal, then keep on going straight ahead. Keep a count of the canals you have crossed. When you have crossed four, including the first bridge, turn right and follow that canal. The place you are looking for is about a couple of hundred metres along the canal."

It did not take us that long to find the place. Outside, there were a few tables along the side of the canal, all occupied. We went in and found a large table towards the rear of the premises, which we took. We had just sat down when a waiter came over and asked us to move to a smaller table as there were only two of us, but Lee explained that there were at least three more people joining us shortly. I checked my watch, and it was twenty to one; the agreed meeting time was for one. Both Lee and I ordered beer. The waiter was just delivering it to the table when Luuk arrived to join us. He also ordered a beer.

Judy arrived about ten minutes later, accompanied by a man and a woman, whom she introduced as Thijs and Christina Kneynsberg, a brother and sister architectural practice. Luuk clearly knew of them and seemed impressed. He started to speak to them in Dutch until Judy interrupted and suggested that he should use English, pointing out that neither Lee nor I spoke Dutch.

Luuk apologised and then informed us that he had been telling the Kneynsbergs that he had studied the refurbishment of a property they had been responsible for on the Singel.

"You must study with Professor Hendricks, then," Christina stated.

"Yes. How did you know?" Luuk asked.

"He's the only professor there who likes our work. The others seem to think you have to drag a building kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. We prefer to coax it in."

"Thijs and Christina were responsible for the refurbishment of the property I will be showing you this afternoon," Judy told us.

Over a couple of beers, we looked at plans that Judy had already shown me. They had, apparently, been drawn up on spec by the Kneynsbergs when Judy had first spoken to them about refurbishing the Herengracht property. I explained to them what I would like to see, and Luuk explained his idea about incorporating the top studio into the fourth-floor apartment as a master suite. Both Thijs and Christina liked the idea and took it further. They suggested making the whole of the rear gable end a glass wall. I liked what they were suggesting, which would make the whole of the top floor much lighter.

Christina informed me that they could organise the work in such a way as to be able to leave the ground-floor office able to operate during the construction. They would only have to close it down for a couple of days while they put the staircase in for the basement flat to bring it up to the required standard for occupation, though doing it that way would take longer. I told them not to worry. The quicker the job was done the better. I had no interest in keeping Wim's uncle in the office; I had ideas for that myself.

I ribbed Luuk about skiving off classes this afternoon.

"No problem. I'll be going to my late lecture, anyway; that's at four. Only had a session with my advisor at two. I saw him this morning and explained what the meeting was about; he told me to go ahead. Said meeting some real architects and discussing a real project would probably teach me more than he could in an hour tutorial. If he'd known I was meeting the Kneynsbergs, he would probably have joined me. He is a great admirer of their work."

"Who is your advisor?" Thijs asked.

"Professor Hendricks," Luuk replied.

Thijs laughed. "That explains a lot."

The discussion about the refurbishment continued through lunch, then Thijs and Christina apologised but stated they had to leave as they had a site meeting scheduled for two-thirty. I thanked them for their input and assured them they would be getting the work to design the refurbishment. Then I paid the bill, and Luuk, Judy, Lee and myself exited the café. We were on the Singel, the innermost of the Amsterdam canals and had to make our way outwards to get to the Herengracht. Then Judy led us down the canal some distance on the opposite side to where my property lay. After about ten minutes walking, we came to a large double-fronted house.

"It's the Marius house!" Luuk exclaimed.

"You know it?" I asked.

"I know its history," Luuk answered.

For the next twenty minutes, Judy spent her time showing us around the building. There were workmen throughout the place, hanging curtains, laying carpets and painting. Whilst we were walking around the building, Luuk was pointing out various architectural features and explaining why they were there. Eventually, we finished our tour and ended up back on the canal side, looking at the property.

"The furniture is being put back in place tomorrow," Judy informed me. "So, come Saturday, the place will be fully furnished and ready to film if you want to use it."

"How much will it cost?" I asked.

"Normally, for half a day, five-hundred euros," Judy informed me. "However, I can offer a deal. If you can supply us a video of the interiors, you can have the run of the place on Saturday afternoon for two hundred. I can be here at two to let you in."

I looked at Lee; he nodded, so I made the deal.

Once that was sorted, Luuk excused himself, saying he should try to spend some time studying before his final class of the day. Judy walked back up to the Centraal Station with us; she was getting the Metro to another appointment. I apologised for making her work on a Saturday.

"It's no problem," she assured me. "My husband is on duty all weekend, one of the banes of life being a casualty consultant in Amsterdam; weekends can be busy. Anyway, the office is open till one on a Saturday, so I would be in town during the morning in any case."

"You didn't continue with your nursing," I commented.

"No, when I came over, there was no free movement of labour, and with a few exceptions, qualifications from one EU country were not recognised in another. I would have had to requalify in the Netherlands, and I doubt if my Dutch is up to it even today, and I've been speaking it now for nearly forty years.

"Piet's mother, that's my mother-in-law, had started the property-management business in the sixties, and I joined it before Piet and I were married. It was just supposed to be a stopgap until I could learn enough Dutch to retrain as a nurse. Found I enjoyed it and was good at the business. Also found the level of Dutch I needed to qualify for nursing was going to take some time to acquire. So, I stuck to property. A year after I married Piet, his mother made me a partner. I took over running it completely when she retired in 1980."

We arrived at the station; Judy went off to catch the Metro; Lee and I got the next train to Hilversum. It was just gone half-past four when we got to the hotel. As we were walking into reception, I glanced across at the bar, then did a double-take. There, sitting on the terrace of the hotel was someone I recognised. At least, I thought I did. I was certain it was the man I had seen in the car talking to Antonio in the college car park. Seeing him now reminded me of something else. I was sure I had seen him at the Eurotunnel departure building.

Lee asked me what was up. I realised I had stopped walking, and he was now a few feet ahead of me. I quickly caught up with him and told him I would tell him when we got upstairs. We had come in via the side entrance to the hotel, which was on the street that led to the station. The hotel's main entrance was off the car park, itself off the main road. The terrace bar overlooked that entrance.

Once we got up to the suite, I told Lee about the man. Lee asked me to describe him and where on the terrace he was sitting. I told him. Lee then said he would be back in ten minutes. He removed the handheld video camera from his backpack and then left the suite. It was more like fifteen minutes before he got back. When he came back, he plugged the camera into the large- screen TV in the suite and played back what he had recorded. I do not know how he managed to get the shots, but he had a very good close-up of the bloke.

"Is that the chap?" Lee asked.

"Yes. That's him. He's definitely the bloke I saw talking in German to Antonio at the car park at college. I can't be sure, but I think I saw him again when I went to use the toilets at Folkstone."

"Can't comment on that," Lee stated. "I do know he was in Venray when we were interviewing Max."


"Yes, a UK registered car drove past when I was unloading your Dad's car prior to the interview. I would swear blind he was the driver."

Lee had frozen the image of the chap on the screen, and we were still discussing him when Mum walked in. She took a look at the screen and then asked why we had a picture of the man from the vakantie parc?

"What do you mean, the man from the vakantie parc?" I asked.

"He was staying at the place we were at over the weekend," she informed me. "He was in one of the bungalows further down towards the lakes."

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