Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 55

It was getting on for ten by time we eventually got back to the Priory. Uncles Ben and Phil had insisted we all go into a pub to wet the baby's head before Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora started back to London. Dad got me a pint of cider for the occasion, strictly against the law, but so what, we were celebrating. I was about halfway through my cider when Uncle Bernard's phone rang. He pulled it out and spoke to whoever had called him.

"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed.

"What's wrong," Aunt Debora asked.

"Bethany's gone into labour. That was Micah; they are on their way to the hospital."

"Well, then, we'd better get there. Don't want to miss the birth of our first grandson," Aunt Debora stated.

"Not sure I'm ready to be a grandfather; I'm certainly not old enough" Uncle Bernard moaned, downing the remains of his pint and following Aunt Debora out of the pub.

"I agree with that," Dad said.

Monday morning, I was up early to go into the yard. Had to use my moped as there was no news about the car. I know Dad had spoken to his insurance brokers on Friday, and there was some question about whether the car was covered or not. It was covered for vandalism, but the brokers pointed out that the damage to the car was not vandalism; it was intentional criminal activity. Dad commented that when it came to paying out, insurance companies seemed to fall into the same category: Scrooges. He did, though, tell me that he would get something sorted out this week.

Steve, of course, wanted to know how Mum was. I thought he might actually know better than I did as I know Peter had been up to Mum's ward at least twice yesterday. However, Steve said that Peter would never talk about patients at home. So, I spent my first half hour in the yard telling Steve about Mum and Alexander.

"I'd better go into Maldon and get him a cuddly toy," Steve said.

"I think he's got more than enough of those," I replied and explained about all the cuddly toys that had been sent in.

"I've got to get my nephew something," Steve protested.

"Steve, he's your great nephew; you're a great uncle," I told him. "I am not sure gifts are expected."

"I'm too young to be a great anything," Steve protested.

Before he had time to say anything else, the phone rang. It was Dad asking Steve to go to the Priory. I wondered what it was for. Then Steve told me that I was required back at the Priory, as well.

I left my moped in the yard and went with Steve in the Land Rover. Steve had left Katherine in charge of the yard. Fortunately, all the staff were in today. When we got to the house, Dad took us through to the study and apologised for dragging us all the way back but explained that the TV company was couriering the contracts for the replica-and-restoration TV series over and wanted them signed and back today.

"Don't we need to get a lawyer to check them?" I asked.

"Martin is doing that as we speak," Dad stated. "They faxed copies to him. He's checking them now. They had drafts with him last week."

"What's so urgent?" I asked.

"Apparently, somebody has approached Bob with a counteroffer. He's not going to take it, but it's panicked the TV people. They want everything tied up now."

As we were talking, we heard a motorcycle roar up to the gate. The gate-control buzzer sounded. Dad answered it, then pressed the control to open it. Dad then went to the front door to meet the courier. He came back into the study, carrying a large envelope. We heard the courier ride away.

"He's not staying to take them back, then," I commented.

"He is. He wanted to know where he could get a good breakfast, so I told him to try the Crooked Man. Since Jan has taken over running their B&B, they have been doing breakfasts from eight till ten in the morning. He'll wait down there until we call to say they are ready for collection."

He had quite a wait. It took nearly two hours for us to work our way through all the contracts. There were five in total. Fortunately, three of them did not directly involve Steve or me, but they impacted on us. We had to go through them carefully, line by line, think about what the impact of each section was and, on a couple of them, get clarification from Martin, who arrived at the house about an hour after the contracts. He had been reading them whilst the courier had been in transit with them from London.

There were a few elements in the contract that either Dad or Martin found unacceptable. Martin carefully ruled them out, then got whoever was the signer for those contracts to initial the ruling out. As Martin pointed out, the counterparty had yet to sign, so they could either sign with the rulings out or redraft the whole thing.

When everything had been gone through, Dad called Gert and Lee over from the office. He wanted them to witness the signatures, but Martin nixed that idea, pointing out that they both had an interest in the contracts. I suggested we get Steven and Jim up from the nursery, but it was a Monday, which was one of their open days, and they were busy. In the end, we got Neal and Allen to witness the signatures.

That done, Dad made copies of everything. That included spares for Steve of the ones that affected him. He then packed the originals up and called the courier, who was back at the gate in ten minutes. Dad went down to the gate this time to hand him the package.

"How's Anne?" Steve asked Dad when he came back in.

"Fine. At least, she was when I spoke to her this morning. Waiting for the doctor to see her, but in all likelihood, she will be discharged this afternoon. She's expressing milk so Alexander can have breast milk while she's not there."

"He's in an incubator, Johnny said," Steve said.

"Yes, but Anne's been breastfeeding him. They bring the incubator up to her ward, and she takes him out for a bit and breastfeeds him. Once she is discharged, she'll go in twice a day to feed him and will express milk to be used for his other feeds. Though, hopefully, we will have him home in a couple of days."

"That soon?" I asked with some surprise.

"Yes, I spoke to the doctor this morning," Dad replied. "Alexander is nowhere near as premature as we thought, and he is doing well. The doctor thinks that after a couple more days to make sure there are no unforeseen problems, we can bring him home — which raises a problem."


"What to do about the nanny," Dad said.

"Nanny?" I asked.

"Yes, we had agreed to have a nanny to look after the baby whilst Anne is at university during the day. We've actually got one lined up, but we were not expecting the baby till the end of the month. The nanny's due to start in September. I'm not sure if she is available to start now, and if she's not, do we want to get a temporary nanny in until she can start?"

"That's going to cost a bomb," I pointed out. "You'd better do a few more all-night writing jobs."

Dad laughed.

It was nearly lunchtime, so Steve phoned the yard and got Bran to find out what everybody wanted for lunch and told him we would pick it up from the Pig and Whistle on our way back. Which is what we did.

When I got home that evening, Mum was home, sitting at the kitchen table with Grandma fussing around her. It had been made very clear by Grandma that Mum's only role at the moment was to rest.

"How's Alexander?" I asked.

"He's doing well. I'm going back in later to give him a feed and express some milk for use overnight. The doctor says that he can probably come home on Wednesday. They just need to keep him under observation for a bit longer."

"Good. I can't wait to have my brother home."

"Just you wait till he wakes you up in the middle of the night, young man," Grandma said. I laughed.

Not long after I got back, Luuk and Joseph walked in.

"Where the hell have you been?" I asked Joseph.

"What do you mean?" he replied.

"Well, you weren't at the London house, and you left your mother's on Saturday."

"How did you know?"

"Your mother and father were here yesterday and expected to find you here," I informed him.

"Shit!" he exclaimed.

"So, Joseph, where were you, and have you spoken to your father?"

"I was at a party with some school friends," Joseph said. "Met them on the way back into London on Saturday night. They were going up to Town to stay the night at Karen's; she was having a party for her sixteenth birthday. They invited me along with them. Been there all weekend."

"That's why you looked so bad when you came in this morning," Luuk commented.

"Didn't get much sleep," Joseph said.

"You probably need to talk to your father," I suggested.

Joseph just nodded. He then informed us that he was going up to our room to get changed. Actually, that was probably a good idea; the clothes he was in looked as if he had been sleeping in them. He probably had if he'd been at a party since Saturday.

I gave Joseph time to get showered and changed, but when he was not down after nearly an hour, I went up to find out what was going on. He was on the phone to his father when I walked into the room. From what I could hear things were not going well.

"I went to a fucking party," Joseph shouted down the phone. "What's wrong with that?"

There was a long pause; Uncle Bernard was clearly saying something to him.

"You can't be fucking serious," he stated.

Whatever it was that Uncle Bernard said to him, I don't know. Joseph just nodded his head, then rang off.

"Seems like I'm an uncle now," he announced to me. "Dad says I have to go home. He's sending a car for me."

"Doesn't trust you on the train?"

"Apparently not. Sorry, Johnny, I've fucked up," he said, standing up and giving me a hug.

We went downstairs. Dad and Mum were in the kitchen. When we walked in, Dad asked Joseph if he had spoken to his parents.

"Just spoke with Dad," Joseph informed him. "He's sending a car for me. Should be here about seven."

"Well, we've got time to feed you, then," Grandma said. "Take a seat. Dinner will be ready in thirty min. Anne and Mike have to get to the hospital for young Alexander's feed."

I went to get the cutlery to set the dining-room table.

"No need for that lad," Grandma informed me. "Gert and Luuk are out this evening, so there be only the four of you. Arthur's taking Colin to the Crooked Man."

"What about you and Granddad?" I asked.

"We'll be eating at our place. There's a joint in my slow cooker. I'll eat at my new home."

That said, I took the cutlery from the other drawer and set the kitchen table.

Forty minutes later, just as we were finishing our meal, the back doorbell rang. I went and answered it. Dan was standing there, informing me that there was a car waiting for Joseph. I guessed that Uncle Bernard must have arranged with Miss Jenkins to get Joseph home. It looked like he was going home under guard.

Joseph had not been gone long, and Mum and Dad were just getting ready to go back to the hospital when Dad's mobile rang. For once he had it on him. Dad answered it, then his face brightened up.

"Congratulations," he said to whoever was calling. Then he rang off.

"That was Bernard. Bethany has given birth to a daughter," Dad told Mum. She glanced at the clock.

"Been a long labour," Mum stated.

"It's her first," Dad pointed out.

"So was mine. I feel sorry for the girl."

Joseph phoned me just before ten to let me know that he had been grounded for the week. He said he had let Matt know and that he would be back next Monday. Then he proceeded to tell me how wonderful his yet unnamed niece was. I, of course, had to tell him how wonderful Alexander was. I know that I had not seen Alexander today, but I knew he was wonderful, he was my brother.

I was not scheduled to work on Tuesday and had planned to spend it doing more survey work on The Lady Ann. As a result, I did not go into the yard till after nine. When I got to the yard, Steve asked me to help Bran finish off a job that had come in that morning. It was a good bit of experience for me as I learnt how to joint in wood sections, something I had seen done but had not done myself. At lunch, Steve asked Bran and Katherine to remain for a chat; he also wanted me there.

Once lunch was over, Steve told Bran and Katherine more about the proposed TV programmes. Katherine was a bit upset that some of the details had not been mentioned about this to her before. That surprised me as I was sure both she and Bran had been around when Steve and I had discussed things. Then I realised, Steve and I had discussed things and they may have overheard something, but at no point had Steve raised matters directly with them.

In the end, though, Steve mollified both of them by informing them that they would be getting paid extra for taking part in the filming. Apparently, this was all in the contract that Steve had signed yesterday. Now, what he wanted was to work out with them how to arrange things so that Boatshed Two at the Salvage Yard would be free when filming was due to start.

"When is that?" Bran asked.

"September sometime," Steve answered. "Don't have an exact date yet, but it will be sometime in September. However, they will need to set up things before they start filming, so we can presume that the shed will not be available from the first of September. Also, Katherine, don't do any constructive work on the Princess of Alba until filming starts.

"What am I going to do until then?" Katherine asked.

"I am sure there will be plenty of work for all of you until we start filming. The important thing is that filming will keep the whole crew employed through winter. I will not have to lay anyone off. In fact, I may be able to keep some of the casuals on."

"How come?" Bran asked.

"They want both builds finished by the end of next May so that the series can start in the autumn," Steve told him.

"But that will require—" Katherine started.

"Yes, once the builds start, we will probably need every experienced member of staff working on them."

We then spent the next couple of hours going over the job sheets and work bookings till the end of September, working out what could be done where and when. One thing became clear, I was going to be doing a lot of extra work in the yard in the next few weeks.

I got home that evening to the news that, barring any unexpected developments, Alexander would be coming home tomorrow. Dad asked me if I could run Gert to Luton airport for an early flight in the morning.

"I thought Lee was taking him," I commented. I am sure that is what had been said at the weekend.

"That was the plan, but I need Lee to go into Town for me so I can take your mother to collect Alexander."

I nodded. That made sense. I did, though, ask where Gert and Luuk were, as they were not in for dinner. Dad informed me that they had gone into Maldon to see a film and have dinner together. He did point out that the two brothers would not be seeing each other for a few weeks.

We were just about to sit down to dinner when the phone went. I answered it and then called Dad, it was Janet Long for him, calling from New York. Dad came back to the table about five minutes later, smiling.

"Somethings pleased you," Mum commented.

"They've just signed off on the Dorothy Richard series," Dad replied. "The deal is better than expected."

"How come?" I asked.

"They are paying me an extra twenty K as a script consultant. Janet said they had expected me to do it for nothing, but she put her foot down."

"And she's got big feet," Mum stated.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Last time your Dad took me into Town, we had to call in at Bob's office. I met her then. We were chatting about shoes, and she was saying that finding stylish size elevens was difficult."

"Size eleven?"

"Well, she is six-foot two," Dad commented.

"No wonder she's such a good agent; she probably scares the buyers into signing," I commented.

After dinner, I went up to check my emails. There was one from Judy, which gave what she thought would be a reasonable rent for the Herrengracht studio/office. I went downstairs to tell Dad what it was.

"Need Gert's input on that," Dad replied. "Though, it does not seem too bad."

Gert and Luuk got back shortly after nine, which was a good job. We had to be at Luton for six-thirty in the morning, which meant we had to leave at half-four. When I told Gert, he was not all that happy. Dad told him about the suggested rent for the Herrengracht property. Gert said it sounded good, but he would get a couple of estimates from real-estate people he knew whilst he was working on things.

That sorted, I went off to bed intending to get a early night. However, I had not banked on Joseph wanting to moan on about how unfair it was him being grounded for a week. I felt like telling him it was his fault. All he needed to have done was phone his parents and tell them he was going to the party. I doubt if Uncle Bernard would have objected, though, I admit, Aunt Debora might have.

Wednesday morning was hectic. For a start, I do not like getting up at four o'clock any morning. That is a time for going to bed after a night out. However, I needed to be up to get Gert to the airport. I was pleased to see that Gert dealt with early mornings as well as I did. We were both running a bit late. Fortunately, we had enough time to get a mug of coffee and some toast, though we had to make do with instant coffee.

Dad had told me to take the Merc. He would be taking Lee into Southminster to catch the train to Town before coming back to take Mum to the hospital. I was glad of the Merc. It started to rain before we got to Maldon, and it was coming down really hard. I would not have liked to have been making the trip in Mum's Wagon-R or in the Smart Car.

With the rain and some unexpected road works, the trip took nearly two hours. It was just before six-thirty when I dropped Gert off. Fortunately, he only had hand luggage, so check-in was not likely to be a problem. Having dropped Gert off, I turned around and started the journey home. About halfway back, I spotted a greasy spoon, so stopped to get some breakfast. I placed my order, then took a seat at a table that looked out on the car park. No sooner had I sat down than Dan took the seat across from me. I looked at him questioningly.

"Charlie is placing our order," Dan informed me.

"You're tailing me?"

"Of course," Dan responded. "You don't think it's all over, do you? Your protection stays in place until Aunty says otherwise."

"But I never told anyone I was making this trip."

"No, Johnny, you didn't, and that was a mistake. Your father did; he briefed us last night."

I sighed.

"Hope you picked a good greasy spoon," the man I presumed was Charlie stated as he took the seat next to Dan.

"How should I know?" I responded. I had seen him around but had never been introduced to him before. "Just saw the place and I was hungry; didn't get breakie this morning."

"Join the club," Charlie said. "Why the early start? I know that Gert lad had to fly home, but why the first flight in the morning?"

That was a good question, then I remembered something Dad had said at the weekend. "He's got a meeting with a TV big shot this afternoon. Was supposed to fly back yesterday but plans got disrupted."

Dan laughed.

It was getting on for nine by the time I got back to the Priory. I was not sure if Dad wanted the Merc, so I thought I'd better check with Mum. She told me if he wanted it, it was just too bad. Given that it was raining I might as well use it to go into the yard.

"Thanks, Mum. Any idea what time you'll be home with Alex?"

"Shortening his name already, young man?" she laughed. "We've got an appointment with the doctor at twelve, but you know what hospital appointments are like. Don't think we will be back till gone one at the earliest."

"OK, I'll try and get back early."

It was not to be. What should have been a two-hour, one-man job for me tuned into a six-hour, four-man job that had to be done that day. So, it was gone five before I got home. I was surprised to find no sign of Mum or Dad.

"They're still at the hospital," Grandma told me. It turned out she had no idea why. Having imparted that information she instructed me on the care of the pasta bake, told me that Luuk had come in and gone up to his room, then set off for her apartment. I set the timer to remind me when to take the pasta bake out of the main oven, then went through to Dad's study to read through my post. There was a note from Mr. Taunton inviting Simone and me to join him for lunch when we went to get our AS results on the 20th. I gave Simone a call to check with her. She had received a similar note, so we agreed we would meet Mr. Taunton for lunch.

"Any chance you could give me a lift on the 20th?" Simone asked.

"Don't see why not. Why?"

"Booked the car in for a service and MoT," Simone replied. "Can't get it in before, and the MoT runs out on the 20th. I'm dropping the car off late on the 19th so they can start on it first thing. Am supposed to be going to the ice rink with Lee, so I need a lift from the college to the Priory, if that's OK."

"How about picking your car up afterwards?" I asked.

"That's no problem. The MoT place is open till eight, Lee will drop me off on the way back from the ice rink, if it is ready. If not, I'll pick it up on the Friday."

I told her that would not be a problem. We then spent a few minutes speculating what Mr. Taunton wanted to discuss with us. We were still talking when the timer on my phone went off, reminding me to take the pasta bake out of the oven. Before I finished the call, I told Simone that I would talk to her in the dojo tonight. She told me she was not coming over; she was on reception duty at the hall. Apparently, Delcie was on holiday, so Simone had to cover.

I was getting the pasta bake out of the oven when the back door opened and Mum came in, carrying Alexander. Dad followed, weighed down with bags. Turned out more stuffed toys had arrived for Alexander since Mum had got out.

"I should leave that out for a bit to cool down," Mum said as she took a seat at the kitchen table. "We'll be able to have dinner soon, once I have fed this one." She undid her blouse and shifted her breast up from her bra before putting Alexander to her breast.

I decided I'd better get on and make the salad. That done, I checked that Mum had finished feeding Alexander, then set the table for dinner. Mum reminded me to sound the tam-tam so that Luuk would know that dinner was ready. So, I did.

I was surprised when Luuk did not come straight through. It was a good five minutes before he appeared. He apologised for being late but said he was on the phone to Gert.

"He got back OK?" Dad asked.

"Yes, and he had his meeting with De heer Wilhelm. Apparently, De heer is a bit annoyed that you have both the professor and me signed up for the architectural programme."

"I did not know he was meeting De heer Wilhelm," Dad stated. "I thought he was meeting somebody from the TV company."

"That's correct. Turns out it is one of De heer Wilhelm's TV companies. Gert did not know he had an interest in it. Don't know why not; he seems to have an interest in most of the independent broadcasters in the Benelux.

"He also told Gert that he wants to speak to you about The Unheard. He's got a slot for it on one of his channels."

"I'd better phone him tomorrow," Dad stated.

I did not want to ask difficult questions during dinner, but as soon as it was over and Luuk had gone back to his room, I asked Mum what the problem had been at the hospital.

"Nothing, really," Mum replied. "It was just the consultant had been called to an emergency and the junior doctor on call needed the consultant to authorise the discharge. We had to wait until the consultant got back."

"Then we had to go shopping for all the baby essentials your Mum realised she had not got before she went in," Dad stated with a smirk.

"Well, I thought I had another four weeks," Mum responded.

"You always said you were no good at maths," Dad replied.

"Arithmetic," Mum answered. "Maths is not a problem; it's just arithmetic that's a pain. You know they say that Einstein could not add up his shopping bill."

It was then that Alexander, who had been sleeping in his carrycot at the end of the table, decided to wake up and demonstrate what a good set of lungs he had. Mum picked him up, sniffed and said he needed changing. She asked me to get the blue nappy bag, which she had left by the door and bring it through to the utility room.

I got the bag and took it through to Mum. She had a couple of towels laid on top of the table in there, and Alexander was lying on top of the towels. I placed the bag on the side of the table.

"You'd better watch this, Johnny," Mum told me. "You might have to do it sometime."

I sincerely hoped that I would not but did watch and took note of how to do it. I wondered if Dad knew how to change a nappy. Then I realised he had probably changed mine when I was Alexander's age. Somehow, I could not imagine mother doing it.

Thursday, I had a busy day in the yard. Cannot say I really did anything, but I seemed to be running around all day, going from helping one of the lads to another. Normally, when I was in the yard working, Steve would assign me to help either Bran or Katherine and, occasionally, Tom, and I would be working with them for at least a couple of hours, but usually for half or a whole day. Alternatively, I would be covering the chandlery. Today, though, I was spending fifteen minutes doing one thing then was sent over to help somebody else for half an hour before being called back to help out with the first job. I suspect the reason I was being pushed here, there and everywhere all day was because two of the casuals who were supposed to be in had not turned up. I was, therefore, pretty knackered by the time I got home.

Grandma was in the kitchen cooking as I entered.

"Your Mum's having a lay down," she informed me as I came in through the kitchen door. "And your dad asked you to call him. He's in the office."

I went up to my room and called Dad. Told him that I needed to shower and change. He said he would see me in the study in half an hour. When I got downstairs half an hour later, there was no sign of him. I was just about to phone when he came in.

"Sorry, got caught up on the phone," he stated. "Let's go to the study." I followed him through to the study and sat down.

"Had a long talk with the insurance broker this afternoon about your car," Dad informed me. "It seems that it is going to get some time to get things sorted out. As I mentioned earlier, the insurance company are saying that the damage is not covered as it was the result of a deliberate criminal attack, not vandalism."

"They nit-picking, aren't they?" I commented.

"I think they are, Johnny, but we all know insurance companies. They will go out of their way to avoid having to pay out."

I just nodded at that comment. Dad continued. "I've been onto the garage, and the total cost of repairs is going to be just under two grand. Might be a fraction over, but they think it will be under. We're carrying a one-thousand-pound excess in any case because of your age.

"The thing is, Johnny, arguing this out with the insurance company could take ages, and I do mean ages. It will only cost us about a grand more than we were going to have to pay out anyway to get your car fixed, so I am suggesting that we get it repaired, then argue the point with the insurance company. What do you think?"

"How will it affect the insurance claim?"

"It will probably end it as they have not yet sent out a loss adjuster to evaluate the damage."

"So, I'll have to pay out about two grand," I said.

"No, Johnny, I'll cover it as it was not your fault."

"So, why are you asking me about it if you're paying?"

"Just so you would know what is going on."

"So, when will I get my car back?" I asked.

"The garage said it would take about three days to sort it out. Most of that is taken up with delivery times for replacement parts. So, if I tell them to go ahead with it tomorrow morning, there is a good chance you can get it back by Monday sometime."

"Good. I miss having the car," I commented.

The tam-tam sounded letting us know that dinner was ready. Over dinner, Mum wanted to know what we had been talking about.

"It looked very deep and serious when I passed the study," she said.

"We were talking about the problem with the insurance people over the damage to my car. Dad's going to cover the repair costs so I can get the car back quicker."

"You miss it?" Mum said.

"Yes. You don't realise how convenient a car is until you do not have one," I told her.

"You might as well use the Wagon-R for a bit. I'll not be using it. Actually, I'm not sure if we should keep it."

"Why not?" Dad asked.

"Mike, I am not happy with taking Alexander in it if I have to take him anywhere. Would like to have something more substantial. Something safer for him to be in."

"Like a Sherman tank," I commented.

"That's a bit of an overkill," Mum replied. "But you get the general idea."

"How about a Range Rover?" Dad asked.

"Wouldn't that be a bit like driving your tank?" Mum inquired.

"I think they are a bit easier to drive than the Santa Fe," Dad commented.

The discussion went on throughout dinner, but the general consensus was that both Dad and Mum thought it would be a good idea to get something to replace the Wagon-R. Neither of them felt comfortable with the idea of having Alexander in it. Actually, I got the distinct impression that Dad thought a Sherman tank would be a good idea for transporting his son. Sometime during the conversation, I mentioned the Volvo Estate as an option. Mum liked the idea. As a result, on Friday morning, I found myself driving the Merc, taking Colin into Chelmsford to see his psychologist and Dad to see the Volvo dealer. By the time we picked Colin up from his appointment, Dad had purchased a nearly new Volvo V70 Estate. I did suggest he should have spoken to Mum before buying it, but Dad said it was too good a deal to miss out on. Apparently, it only had fifteen hundred miles on the clock — the previous owner had passed away suddenly — and Dad had got it well below what the new price was because it was used, and he had it on three-years', interest-free credit.

I was not so certain it was that good a deal. Something told me that getting your wife a car without her seeing it first was not the best idea. I was right. I had been living with Mum and Dad for nearly a year and a half. In that time, I had not heard them have one argument. That afternoon, they decided to make up for it.

I must say I could fully understand where Mum was coming from. She wanted a car that she would be comfortable driving but had plenty of room for shopping and stuff. It also had to be safe for Alexander. Well, she had to admit there was plenty of space in the Volvo, and it was a car with a reputation for being safe. However, she did not know if it would be comfortable for her to drive. At the very least, Dad should have gotten her a test drive before he bought it. If she had, she would probably have been happy even with the colour, which was ruby red.

The upshot of the whole affair was that Mum insisted that we kept the Wagon-R, as well, so she had something which was comfortable to drive. As if the Volvo was not. At least, if it was like my Volvo, it would be comfortable to drive. Because of my age, the garage had not allowed me to have a test drive, though Dad had had one.

There was an event on at the yacht club over the weekend, so I was covering the chandlery both days. Colin assisted me on Saturday, but I had Steve with me all day Sunday. Strangely, Steve left me dealing with punters who came in. He was just doing the storeroom work, what Colin had done with me on Saturday. When we closed up at four, I did say he could have given me a hand on the sales desk.

"Why?" he replied. "You're a lot better salesman than I am. Far better I leave you selling and I get the stuff from the store."

I was not sure if that was a compliment or not, an issue I raised with Steve. He told me to look at the figures.

"What do you mean, look at the figures?"

"Johnny, when you are running sales in the chandlery, the takings are always more than expected. That's not the case when I am running sales."

"Why's that?"

"I think I spend too long talking to customers about their boats; you talk to them about what they are buying," he laughed. "The chandlery does best when you and Colin are running it."

"Why is that?" I commented.

"You're a good team," Steve stated. "I've watched the pair of you work. You sell and Colin gets the goods from the store. The thing is, he seems to know what you are going to ask him to get before you ask him. Half the time, he is in the right section of the store before you have said what's required.

"It's the same when you two are working together in the yard. When he is working with anybody else, Colin just stands there waiting to be told what to do. When he is working with you, he is passing you a tool before you even ask for it."

I got home to the Priory a bit before five. Mum was in the kitchen cooking Sunday dinner. Alexander was asleep in his carrycot at the end of the kitchen table.

"Where's Dad?" I asked as I came in.

"He's taken Luuk to the airport," Mum replied.

"To the airport? I did not think he was going back till the end of the month."

"He's only flying home for a couple of days. Something's come up about the contracts for the architectural series, and Luuk has gone over to give Gert a hand sorting it out. Lee's going over with him."

"I'm surprised Dad's not going," I commented.

"Didn't want to leave Alexander. I have a hard enough job to get him to go to the office in the morning," Mum laughed.

At the mention of his name, Alexander woke up and promptly announced his presence to the world. I went over and picked him up, then commented he smelt a bit ripe.

"Take over here, can you?" Mum asked. "I'll go and change him."

"It's OK, Mum, I'll change him. Might as well get used to it. I've got no doubt you and Dad have me lined up for babysitting, so I'd better get the practice in."

"How'd you guess?" Mum laughed. "Everything you need is on the shelf above the table."

I took Alexander into the utility room. There was a changing pad, which Mum had ordered online, spread across the table. I laid Alexander down upon it, removed his baby suit, then undid the nappy. How was it that something so small could produce so much stinking mess?

For a first attempt at cleaning up Alexander and changing his nappy, I do not think I did that badly, though Mum did ask me what took so long when I carried Alexander back into the kitchen, placing him back in the carrycot before taking the nappy disposal bag out to put in the bin.

That done, I went back in and told her that somebody needed to design nappies with better fastenings on them. Alternatively, make babies that do not wriggle so much. Mum laughed.

"By the way, there is a message for you on the board," she told me.

I went over to the board and saw there was a message saying Tony had rung, asking if I could call him. There was a mobile number with the message.

"When did Tony ring?" I asked. Wondering why he had not called my mobile.

"Don't know," Mum replied. "He called while I was taking my nap this afternoon. Your gran took the message."

When I looked at the message again, I realised that it was not Mum's handwriting. I took it off the board, and, after checking what time dinner would be — about seven as Dad had to get back from the airport — I went up to my room. Once there, I changed, then phoned Tony.

"Hello," he said when he answered the phone.

"It's Johnny; you asked me to call," I told him.

"Thanks, Johnny. Sorry I did not recognise your number," Tony replied. "You never gave it to me."

I realised he was right, which explained why he had called on the landline.

"Sorry, well you've got it now. What can I do for you?"

"The eleven I play with are playing Dunford St. Margaret's eleven next Sunday at Dunford. Would you and Joseph like to come to the game?"

"Not sure if Joseph will be here," I told him. "He's grounded at the moment. Supposed to be lifted on Friday, but I think his mother might insist on him being home at the weekend. I normally work on a Sunday, but I suppose I could get the afternoon off. What time does the match start?"

"We are due to commence play at two."

"I'll call Joseph and ask him, though I'm not sure if he is into cricket. I know he can't stand football."

"I knew there was some reason why I liked that lad," Tony quipped. I laughed.

I knew that Tony hated football with a vengeance. He refused to play it at school. Thinking about it, I had never seen him playing cricket at school, either, a fact I mentioned.

"Of course not. I was not going to let Palfrey know I was a spinner. He'd have me out practicing at nets all the time." Palfrey was the games teacher at the last school we had been together at.

"So, how come you're in an eleven?" I asked.

"My Uncle Paul, Dad's brother, played for Middlesex. He retired ten years ago but coaches the local club close to our place. Did not have much choice as he'd been teaching me to spin since I could hold a ball."

We chatted a bit longer, then I rang off and called Joseph. I explained about Tony's invite to see him play.

"Not sure I will be back in time," Joseph told me. "Mum's insisting that I am up for next weekend. Bethany's family are putting on some sort of feast for the new baby; I am expected to attend. Apparently, it will last two days, so I won't be able to get away till late Sunday afternoon. Might even be Monday morning."

"Has Bethany named the baby yet?"

"Apparently, yes, but they are not saying the name till the party next weekend. Bethany says her mother thinks it is bad luck for the baby's name to be spoken until it has been formally blessed. However, Micah has registered the birth, so they must have registered the name; they're just not telling anyone."

"You could always go to the registrar's and look it up," I pointed out.

"It would be more than my life's worth," Joseph replied. "I'm in enough trouble as it is."

We chatted a bit more, and Joseph wanted to know if Dad was still in trouble for buying the car.

"I think he's forgiven, but it has cost him?" I told Joseph.

"How much?"

"He's promised to take Mum to the to the Christmas Market in Aachen with a city break in Brussels on the way."


"It will be if Mum's shopping."

I finished the call to Joseph, then called Steve to ask if I could get Sunday off. Steve assured me that it would not be a problem. That done, I sent Tony a text saying I would be at the game but was not sure about Joseph. Then I went downstairs.

Dad was back when I got to the kitchen. He was just taking his coat off.

"How come Lee's flown out?" I asked once he was seated at the table.

"Contractual issue. We can't sign the contract for the architectural series till MCP Nederland is set up. That needs the signature of a director of Mike Carlton Productions, so I sent Lee over."

"Lee's a director!" I exclaimed.

"Made him one before we went to Oz," Dad informed me. "That way, he had the authority to sign for the company whilst I was away."

"You're putting a lot of trust in him," I pointed out.

"I think he deserves it, Johnny. He works hard for the business, and to be honest, we would have been in a mess a couple of times if it had not been for him. He has a far better business head on him than I have. Bernard suggested I should give him shares to make sure I don't lose him."

"Are you likely to?"

"Well, that brother of mine has tried to lure him away — twice!"

"So, Lee's gone over so he can sign for MCP, but why has Luuk gone?"

"Basically, to guide Lee around," Dad answered. "But Gert wants to get a meeting with Luuk and Professor Hendricks so they can prepare a list of buildings to film for the architectural series. Professor Hendricks is off to the States on Friday, so it was do it now or wait till the university restarts in September. Sending Luuk over with Lee now meant we were killing two birds with one stone."

"I bet Matt will be happy," I commented, thinking about the work Luuk was doing on the studio design.

"Not a problem. Spoke to Matt about Luuk not being around. Apparently, there is not much they can do at the moment. They are waiting for figures from the engineers regarding loadings and such, and it seems that the engineers are on holiday. So, there was not much for Luuk to do next week; it was a good week for him to take off."

It was funny at dinner: only the three of us at the table. Well, there were four if you counted Alexander in his carrycot sitting on the bench at the end of the table. However, he had already been fed and was now comfortably sleeping. I gather from what Mum said that at his age, babies had three modes of existence: feeding, sleeping and shitting. I knew he was good at the last two and Mum assured me he was good at the first.

"Just like the other males in this house," she commented.

Over dinner, I mentioned the cricket match next Sunday.

"Did not know you were into cricket," Dad commented.

"I'm not really," I replied. "Though, I enjoy lazing around watching the odd game if the weather is fine."

"That's the point: 'if the weather is fine'," Mum said. "John used to play, and I went to watch him and sat on the bank with a picnic, watching the men play under a summer sun. It was a nice way to pass a Sunday afternoon."

"Always thought cricket was the English rain-making ceremony," Dad quipped.

"As if we need one," I commented. "Have you looked at the recent weather?"

"That's precisely my point," Dad replied. "There is a Test series on, they're playing for the Ashes. It's bound to rain."

Mum laughed.

"Seriously though, if the weather is good, I wouldn't mind going along and seeing a game," Mum stated. "It would be nice to get out of the house for a bit."

The way she said that made me realise that since Alexander had been brought home, Mum had not left the house. She would not leave him on his own. Cricket and a picnic seemed a very good idea.

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