Gladiators; Jim in the barrel; scrum; tartan

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Five

Alistair was smiling hugely. “Never got past the lowliest of the low myself and spent most of my time sweeping out the Stores. ‘Too much lip’ my Squad Corporal used to say. Huh, he’s a Lieutenant in the HLI now. Keeping up the old school tradition, eh!”

All this time we were all eating steadily and I saw the little grins which passed between Grandma and Grandpa.

“You never thought of the military life then?” Grandpa asked Alistair and I knew he was teasing.

Alistair laughed. “You can’t catch me on that one. Dad put his foot down and I’m reading Law…”

“…Should have put his boot in…” said Jonathan very quietly this time. I think I was the only one who heard it as the others laughed at what Alistair had said. I knew his father had insisted he did something useful. I’d heard Mrs Grantly and Mum talking about it last year and Mrs Grantly said he was a clever lad but needed to spend less time chasing the girls, but that came of a celibate life in a Public School. I looked up ‘celibate’ in the dictionary and had a problem finding it under ‘s’ until I remembered ‘celery’ was spelled with a ‘c’. I understood where it said ‘unmarried’ but I got a bit confused with ‘abstention from sexual relations’ as I knew relations were relatives but what was the sexual bit? From what I’d learned this term at school from Brigstock and the others I knew what it meant now!

“Are you enjoying it?” Grandpa asked and by his tone of voice I knew he was asking it mischievously. When Mrs Grantly teased me she always sounded the same way.

“Of course not,” said Alistair with a laugh, “But I do enjoy the arguments we have. There’s lots to learn and remember and some of the points of law are gae knotty. Still, now I’m in the second year I’m getting used to it.”

Grandma winked at me across the table. “Long time before you have to decide what you want to do, eh, Jamie?”

“I hope so,” I said.

“Teeth, Army, or the Law, that’s a choice for a start,” said Jonathan, “Any of those, otherwise the family will disown you!”

“Don’t frighten the poor boy,” Grandma said with a laugh, “He can choose whatever he likes. Can’t you, Jamie, eh?”

“I hope I can,” I said, “All in good time.” They all laughed at that. It was one of Mrs. Grantly’s sayings and Mum used it whenever we pestered her for anything. Anyway, I concentrated on my lunch after that and they went on chatting. Even Jonathan seemed to join in with Alistair so I thought he might not be too annoyed still with him.

I was quite full, especially after two helpings of the baked apple flan as well and was a bit sleepy when Jonathan and Alistair had helped Grandma clear away the dishes. Jonathan said we’d better go as he’d got a list from Mum of things to get at Crolla’s. That woke me up. I liked going to that shop with all the bottles and jars and cheeses and meats and things and I knew it was Mrs Grantly’s favourite shop as she was always talking about all the good stuff she bought there. Grandma said she had a list too and Grandpa could drive us down. Alistair said he wouldn’t come but would stay and chat to Gran. All was arranged, we went to the shop with Grandpa and came back and picked up Alistair and we were driven home.

Of course, there was a great fuss with Mum greeting Alistair and Mrs Grantly checking if we’d bought all the right things, so I went up to my, I mean, our room and stashed away the three bars of Green and Black’s chocolate Grandpa had given me. It was OK, he’d bought loads for the rest of ‘the tribe’ as he called us. Jonathan had said he didn’t think the girls should have any as they would get fat. I said ‘and spotty’ and got a great nudge in the back from him. I’d forgotten he was sensitive about his spots and I would have to ask him why boys got spots. Still three bars for me was OK and I certainly wasn’t spotty. Yet! I thought I would save two and take them back to school with me and share them with the others because Pete had done that. I thought of Pete and realised that even though I was home I missed his company especially. I liked Pete very much. I really did miss him. Still, there was plenty to do, including going to the piping class tonight.

It wasn’t long before Jonathan came into the bedroom, rolling his eyes and mouthing. I heard Alistair go in next door, Jonathan’s proper room, and soon there was a tap on our door. It was Alistair. Jonathan beckoned him in.

“Sorry lads,” he said rather hesitantly, “You having to share and I’ve got your room, Jonathan.” Before Jonathan could say anything Alistair went on. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, too, that I upset everyone last holiday. Please forgive me. I’ll try to explain.”

Jonathan still didn’t say anything and I just looked at Alistair wondering what he was going to tell us. He scratched the back of his neck then shook his head again.

“I’m sorry but I was in a bit of a bloody state.” He sniffed and drew his bottom lip down. “Mustn’t swear but I was a bit desperate.” He looked at Jonathan. “I hope you’ll understand but I’d just about failed my First Year and was under a severe warning. Dad was hopping mad as one of the lecturers is a friend of his so I’d had a blistering telling-off the night before I flew to Athens.” He sniffed again and this time wrinkled his nose. “The other thing was my girl-friend had ditched me. At least, I thought she was my girl-friend but I found she was seeing at least two other blokes when I wasn’t around. We had a blazing row and she told me I could f…” He didn’t finish but I knew what he was going to say. Jonathan held up a hand.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell us all that then. At least we would have known what was bugging you. You were a total prat!” He laughed. “Not at all like the Alistair who taught me…” He stopped, too. They both laughed. They smiled at each other then gave each other a high five. Just like Brigstock did, and Stu always did it now to any of us if we had a bit of good news.

“Am I forgiven?” Alistair said, looking from Jonathan to me.

Jonathan was grinning. “As long as you tell me what the girl-friend was like. Were you…?” He stopped and they both laughed again. I was getting a bit bemused about all these unfinished sentences. Alistair was nodding and said something like, “What d’you think?” And they laughed again. “Full details,” Jonathan said and gave Alistair another high five.

“If you tell me things I want to know, I’ll forgive you, too,” I said.

“Wow!” said Alistair, “I’ll be your obedient servant, Jamie. I promise.”

“And don’t you dare tell him anything untrue,” said Jonathan, “I’m being serious about that. I remember what you told me about hairy palms. Had me worried for weeks.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

Jonathan rolled his eyes heavenwards again. “Sorry, Jamie, that will come later…”

“…Much later!” said Alistair. “I’ll behave.”

Well, it seemed we were all friendly now. I hadn’t had much to do with Alistair before the holiday. He’d visited us and we’d been to Perth to their house but he was so much older than me I hadn’t taken much notice of him. I realised now that he and Jonathan had been friendly then and they must have been at school together anyway. Jonathan had said something about Alistair teaching him. Alistair couldn’t have been a teacher at school. Perhaps he’d helped Jonathan with his schoolwork like we help Jack Pringle. But, they laughed and grinned at each other, and that seemed odd. Still, I might find out more if I listened carefully. Anyway, we’d been told there would be a high tea before I had to go to the piping class and Alistair said he’d come as well.

The girls weren’t back from Geoffrey’s when we set off. Jonathan had fiddled around with his pipes before putting them in their case and he’d also put on his best CCF trews and looked very smart though he sad they were getting a bit tight and he preferred his combats as they were looser. I knew the trews tartan was Highland Light Infantry and Dad had said that’s also why they had to quick march to begin with when we’d watched them on parade last summer. A bit puzzling but Dad had explained it was a tradition for the regiment. What was a surprise was that Alistair was wearing his kilt but didn’t say why. We didn’t quick march but had to hurry a bit as Grandpa Sinclair was going to drive to the hall as soon as he was ready. He didn’t offer to take us as he came in rather late and I was to have my first lesson on the chanter at half past seven from somebody called Mr Henderson and Grandpa wouldn’t be there by then but he would drive us home. It meant we three had a taxi to get to the hall.

It wasn’t too bad. I saw the boy who’d been at rugby practice. I remembered he was Luke. He smiled at me and held up his own chanter. There were two other boys with me starting to learn. One of them I found out was Luke’s young brother, Logan, and our instructor was their father. He and most of the other men and boys were in the kilt or trews and I felt a bit out of it as I was wearing my school blazer and shorts, but it explained why Alistair was in his kilt. Mum had said it wasn’t much good buying me an expensive kilt at present as I was growing but, no doubt, she’d be able to borrow a suitable one from a friend for me to wear over the holidays. Good, as we were booked for a big Dinner and Ceilidh on New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay, as the invitations said. I would need to be properly dressed for that as it would be the first time I was old enough to go.

The three of us went into a smaller side room with Mr Henderson and he showed us how to hold the chanter and to blow carefully and not make it squeak. I managed a scale, as he called it, and then we three practised doing it together. Logan said he’d been shown it before and the other boy, Gavin, had an older brother who had shown him as well. I was pleased I’d learned so quickly and Mr Henderson said I should practise as much as possible during the next week. He gave me a piece of paper with the musical notes on which I knew how to read as I had learned to play the recorder at the little school.

It was just after eight o’clock when Mr Henderson said we’d done enough for one evening and we should go into the hall and see what everyone else was doing. While we had been playing and listening to Mr Henderson we could hear the din coming from the big hall. Bagpipes do tend to make a noise and when there are several people in groups or by themselves practising it does get rather loud. Logan said his brother had just been given his set of pipes so he wanted to see how he was getting on. Gavin said his brother was very good and he was twelve and in the school pipe band..

Yes, the noise got more as we went into the hall. I saw Jonathan and Geoffrey standing side by side with Geoffrey showing Jonathan some fingering on the chanter attached to his bagpipes. There was another boy watching, too, copying what Geoffrey was doing, and Alistair was standing and nodding his head as Geoffrey was talking. I went across to see what was happening but, just as I got there, the three of them got their pipes sounding and played a tune together. It sounded very good. I stood until they finished.

“You’re coming on a treat,” Geoffrey said to Jonathan, “You should practise more.” He turned to the other boy. “That’s right, isn’t it, Jules?” The other boy nodded. I recognised him. He’s been to the house several times last year to have lessons from Grandpa. He must be the Julian that Jonathan had laughed about. He didn’t look as old as Jonathan but he was just about as big.

Jonathan saw me watching. “All OK, Jamie?” he asked. I nodded and held up my chanter.

Logan had followed me. “Hi,” said Geoffrey, “You must be Luke’s brother. You learning as well?” Logan nodded. “You’re coming for rugby practice tomorrow, eh?”

Logan smiled. “Yes, please.”

“I’m going, too,” I said, “Your brother was there yesterday and he asked if you could come.”

“Yes and he said you tackled him very well.”

“Too true,” said Jonathan.

“Come on,” said Geoffrey, “Stop gossiping now, time for that later. We can try the next part of the tune.”

Alistair winked at me as the three hoisted up their pipes again. He nodded and Logan and I went over to him. “Can I come on Friday as well? I’ll need a bit of exercise after all of Mrs Grantly’s cooking.”

I nudged Logan. “I think we’d both better tackle him.”

“Bit big,” said Logan.

Alistair laughed but didn’t say anything. We wouldn’t have heard because the blare of the pipes from all sides was getting quite deafening. But it was interesting as four of the older lads were marching up and down as they played and Grandpa was there waving a finger at them and nodding and smiling.

“That was very good,” I heard him say as they finished and stood side by side in a row. “I’ll be putting you in for the contest at Easter but you’ll have learn twa other pieces afore then.”

“Could we do the strathspey now?” one of them asked looking very pleased. Grandpa nodded and the four stood in a circle and blew up the bags and launched into a different sort of tune. It was quite slow and it was full of little jumps and turns. I knew it but not its name. Mrs Grantly hummed and whistled it, without the twiddles, almost every time she was preparing food. “A cheerful cook makes cheerful food,” was something she was always saying.

Grandpa drove us all back home and dropped Geoffrey off at his house just round the corner so I had more room in the back, where I’d been squashed between him and Jonathan, for the rest of the journey. I’d noticed that Jonathan had put a hand out and squeezed Geoffrey’s bare leg just above his knee before he got out. “See you, matey. Come and have a chat before we go off tomorrow.” Geoffrey grinned at him and nodded.

The girls were watching telly in the drawing-room when we got back. Nothing interesting as Jacky muted the sound and asked how I’d got on. “Right little star,” said Jonathan, “Phil the Fluter’s his new name.”

“Och, you’re just a bag of wind yourself,” said Caroline. “Tell us, Jamie, was it OK?”

“Yes,” I said, “I quite enjoyed it. Bit noisy and I heard Jonathan play… …properly!” I added. “He wasn’t bad. Some of the others were much better, though, and Geoffrey and his friend were ever so good.”

“Thank you for that comprehensive criticism….” He looked round as both the girls were looking rather coldly at the door of the room, almost with sneers on their faces. Alistair was standing there and made no effort to come in.

Jonathan looked at him and then at the girls. “..and before the frosts of winter descend in the room I can tell you Alistair’s OK. We know all the whys and wherefores of why things went wrong in Athens. Don’t we, Jamie?” The girls turned to me. I nodded. “We’ve forgiven Alistair and when you hear the reasons I’m certain your good hearts will exude whatever drops of human kindness you may have left…”

Jacky snorted. “…Will you stop your blethering, Jonathan.” She looked at Alistair and looked just like Mum when she looked stern. “You’d better say your piece…”

“…And make it good. You let us and the family down,” continued Caroline.

Poor Alistair. I don’t think he was expecting this.

“I really am sorry and Jonathan and Jamie have forgiven me. I’d better tell you…”

“Well?” said Jacky.

Alistair came over and knelt on the carpet in front of them and smoothed his kilt down. I listened as he then explained to them what had gone wrong.

“You might have told us all that then,” said Jacky.

“Yep,” said Caroline, “I’ll have to apologise again to all our friends.” She looked at Jacky. “Do we forgive him?”

“I suppose so,” said Jacky, “He is our only cousin and he might be useful in the future if we ever need a lawyer…”

“…That’s if he ever passes his exams!” said Caroline.

“Oh, my God!” said Alistair, “You sound just like my mother.”

“So we should,” said Caroline, “She’s Mum’s sister and we are just like Mum.” She leaned forward and put a hand on Alistair’s shoulder. I could see from the side he was smiling now he was forgiven. He lumbered to his feet and held Caroline’s hand. I saw Jacky smiling and nodding, too.

“God help any kids you have,” Jonathan said quietly as he leaned over towards Caroline.

“I heard that!” A voice came from the doorway. It was Mum. “I’ll deal with you later. Caroline, Jacky, do you forgive Alistair?”

They both laughed. “Of course we do,” said Jacky, “Don’t we?” She turned to Caroline who nodded.

“Right!” Said Mum, “It’s just a cosy supper tonight. Grandpa’s gone straight off to see Dr McPhee so he’ll eat there. I’ve laid up things in the breakfast room so go and help yourselves and then the lads can help clear up.” She looked at the girls. “I’ve got jobs for you tomorrow before you go to Gran’s for lunch. Don’t think you’ve been let off as you’ve just arrived!” Jacky grimaced but neither said anything. It was better not to. We all knew we had to do whatever Mum said. “We shall be having a house-full over the weekend with Aunt Cassie arriving Sunday morning and the latest is your father will be home early Monday morning.”

I felt very happy about all the news. I liked Great-Aunt Cassie who used to tell me wonderful stories about ancient Greece and Rome when I younger and being put to bed. My favourite was about Spartacus the gladiator but that was a bit sad because he got killed in the end. But then, Dad would be home and we would hear what was happening in Greece and I could tell him all about school and practising rugby. But I was hungry as well so I led the way into the breakfast room before Jonathan and Alistair could grab everything.

Anyway, it wasn’t long after supper when I yawned and Mum grinned and pointed upstairs.


After breakfast Caroline and Jacky were given jobs to do. I was told to make myself scarce unless I wanted to prepare the veggies with Mrs Grantly for the evening meal. I went back upstairs wondering where Jonathan and Alistair had disappeared to. Jonathan wasn’t in our bedroom when I went in to collect my Treasure Island book. As I came out I could hear laughter. Oh, Jonathan was in the next room talking to Alistair. I wondered what they were laughing about so I sat down just by the half-open door and thought I was just like Jim in the barrel on the ship listening to the plotting. They obviously didn’t expect to have someone listening and were talking, and laughing, quite loudly.

“Tell me about young Julian and Geoffrey. Good friends, are they?”

That was Alistair. I’d noticed he’d watched Geoffrey and Julian very intently when they were playing the pipes together and he’d kept smiling and nodding his head.

I heard Jonathan snigger. “Julian’s Geoffrey’s shadow. He’s a good lad and I’ve hinted to Geoff that he should pounce….”

“So Geoffrey is definitely…..?”

There was a slight murmur from Jonathan. I couldn’t quite catch what he said. And what did they mean? Why should Geoffrey pounce? And what was definite about Geoffrey?

“I did talk to him after we came back from Greece in the summer and we met up here, but he said he still wasn’t sure,” I heard Jonathan say as he spoke louder, then he laughed again. “Unfortunately both Geoff and Juli are rather naive. Juli writes him long letters about all sorts of things. Mainly about games he’s watched Geoff play in. Geoff gave me a couple to read and he thinks Juli’s just rugger mad. But there’s no doubt…”

“…The lad’s besotted? That’s how it started with Gerry Ruffett and the Croc at school.”

“I don’t remember them. Remember, you were top end of the school when I came up…” Alistair said something which I couldn’t catch then Jonathan continued “…Yep, I know who you mean… …At least the one you called Croc. Wasn’t he was the big dark curly-haired lad in your Year? Luigi Crochetti?”

“Yes, that’s right. Croc was in our House and kept getting notes from Gerry who was in Price’s. I knew about it all as I did fencing with them both. They paired up in the end but it had really started the moment Gerry set eyes on him in First Year and they weren’t the only ones…..”

I heard Jonathan snort. “….Same now. Lorry’s pal Figgy in Jermayne’s has the hots for a lad there. Lorry says they pack down together more often than in the scrum.”

“Boys will be boys,” Alistair said with a laugh.

It was all getting rather complicated. I wondered if I could remember all they had said so far. I concentrated again as Alistair was asking Jonathan a question.

“You and Geoff still friendly enough?”

“Same as ever. Bit difficult with young’un around. Nearly caught us yesterday.”

What was that? I assumed I was ‘young’un’.

“Nothing more?”

“Just boys together. You should know. You taught me!”

“Ever open and forthright!” Alistair laughed as he said it.

“Oh God, it’s all we ever talk about in our room, though not much action.”

“What about Tuddy? From what I remember you were pally from the start.”

“Yeah. Had to start somewhere after your instruction and Tuddy needed to be told.”

Alistair laughed again. “Yes, I remember the look of glee on your face when you told me after Chapel and I had to tell you to shut up. Your voice was still squeaky and too loud!”

They both laughed. I shifted a bit as my bum was getting numb sitting so still. Ow…, mustn’t make a noise.

“Not squeaky now,” I heard Jonathan say. “Daddy Manners tested me and I’m singing bass in the choir now.”

“I noticed they’d dropped more on holiday! Young, hung and full of, as they say, eh?”

There was more laughing, too. What were they on about? I knew Mr Manners was a Music Master at the Big School and was their Choir Master. He came to our Prep School on Tuesdays when each class had singing. I liked that as we were going through a book called the New National Song Book. But what had dropped? But they were going on and I had to listen carefully.

“Any other news?” Alistair asked.

“Nothing much. I got promoted and I’ve got that lad Prothero in my squad from next term.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s the son of that pop bloke Lanky Cocker.” I heard Alistair mumble something. “Yeah, that’s right, but his real surname is Prothero and his fat and useless son is at our school. Apparently he’s been thieving and making a nuisance of himself in Prep School and I’m lumbered with him as he’s being made to join the CCF when he comes up to us next term.”

“How old is he then?”

“Must be at least fourteen I guess. Been held down a year I think. Lorimer’s kid brother knows him and says he’s a right pain in the arse but they were all warned not to lay a finger on him ‘cause his mother ‘phones the Head almost every night. Anyway, he’s built like the proverbial so I doubt if any of the kids would tackle him.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll cope. Use the Drummond charm on him and see if you can get any of his dad’s discs. The old man must be at least fifty but if what the papers say is true the name fits and he needs it to deal with all the groupies.”

Oh dear, lots more to think about. Prothero sounds even worse and Jonathan will have to deal with him. And how was he built? And his father’s name. It wasn’t ‘cock’ as I had thought when I heard that whisper. It was ‘Cocker’ which sounded even more strange and funny. Funny he had two names and it sounded funny, too If I stayed here much longer I would really be in trouble trying to remember everything. I’d also be in trouble if Jonathan and Alistair knew I was listening in on them. I sat up carefully and really silently crept back to our bedroom, cleared some of Jonathan’s clothes off the chair and sat and read. Well, I sat with the book in front of me but my head was buzzing with all the things I’d heard.

“You OK, Jamie?”

I jumped a bit. I had been concentrating so much on all the things I’d heard I didn’t hear Jonathan come into the room.

“Penny for them?”

I grinned up at him. I had plenty of thoughts and plenty of questions but where to start? Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as Mrs Grantly always said when she and Mum were about to discuss something I realised was a bit private. As private as why Mrs Higgs’s daughter Cheryl was in some sort of trouble. I never made out what the trouble was. Something about eight months already. Again, I could hardly ask as I was in my favourite spot hiding under the big kitchen table when they were discussing things and I had been listening in just now to Jonathan and Alistair. If I asked too many things he’d know I had been snooping.

“Why do you wear trews in the CCF and not a kilt ‘cause Geoffrey was laughing at you about it?” I blurted out.

There was even more of a roar of laughter from behind Jonathan. It was Alistair, of course.

“Go on, tell him!” said Alistair. “It’s just a bit of Kinloch folklore but I bet it’s correct!”

Jonathan was prodded into the room by a still laughing Alistair and they both lumped down on the side of the bed facing me.

“You tell him,” said Jonathan, “You were at the school before me.”

“Aah, but I wasn’t in the CCF all the time. Remember, I did fencing instead so got out of many of the parades and things. Fencing was much more genteel…” He poked Jonathan in the side. “…But we missed out on the camping adventures, eh?… …Little Jon-Jon and big-hearted Mackie?”

“Shut it, Ally, it was rumours and you’ll just give Jamie more to ask about….”

“Who’s big-hearted Mackie?” I asked.

Alistair flopped back on the bed laughing even more. Jonathan turned round and caught hold of his leg just above the knee and squeezed. “You need dealing with. It’s my reputation at stake here.” He couldn’t have been too upset as he laughed, too, and gave Alistair’s leg another squeeze which made him squeal instead of chuckle.

“He was the CCF Sergeant-Major and kept young Jon-Jon in check. Jonathan here was his slave, not willing at first, but by the time Angus Mackie left school he knew how to bull boots and polish brass better than any of them.” He winked at Jonathan. “I think that was what went on in the Sergeant Major’s little room in the Stores. But…” He paused, “…young Jonathan did have a contented smile on his sweet little face most times he scuttled out of the room, and I should know as I was sweeping up on fatigues most days!”

Jonathan was laughing. “I was only smiling because Angus was unstinting with his praise.”

“Wow, first name terms eh?” said Alistair also with a laugh. “Anyway, not what we surmised. And who was voted the sprog least likely to be kicked….?”

“Nuff!” said Jonathan who wasn’t smiling then.

“What’s a sprog?” I asked. It was that word I’d heard the day before.

Alistair laughed even more. “Like you’re a new bug in Junior School so sprogs or sproglets are new bugs in Big School.”

That made sense. But, “Why was Jonathan least likely to be kicked?” I asked.

That made Jonathan laugh as well. I was getting more and more confused with all the laughter most of which was making less and less sense to me.

“Not something we’ll discuss now,” he said, “Much later.”

I was getting a bit fed up with ‘much later’. I stood up. “You promised to tell me things,” I said to Jonathan, “And all I’m told is ‘much later’.”

Alistair leaned over and put an arm round me. “Sorry, Jamie, but it’s really about boys as they get older.” He hugged me. It was the first time Alistair had hugged me and it was nice. He felt strong just like Jonathan. “Boys have lots of secrets with friends and you’ll learn but you have to learn slowly - unfortunately sometimes it is a bit quick.” He squeezed me again. “I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait. Too much too soon will be too complicated, take it from me.”

Jonathan looked very serious then. He said very quietly, “Something happened to you didn’t it?… …You told me to watch out because….”

Alistair nodded. “…True. Not to put too fine a point on it, yes. Both of them got the push.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“It was the first week I joined Big School. I was by myself walking round the back of the House and was caught up by two older boys. They tried to make me do things I didn’t understand about and one of the Sixth Formers heard me yell and that was that. It wasn’t the first time for them as they’d done it before to others as two other boys said it had happened to them.”

“Something to watch out for, Jamie,” said Jonathan, “Don’t let other boys do anything to you you don’t want them to. You’ll make friends and they’ll watch out for you and you’ll watch out for them.”

Something to digest. What things? I would learn! It was all getting too serious for me. And I hadn’t got an answer to my question about the trews. Just then there was a call from down below.

“Jamie! There are two boys down here wanting to know if you want some company.”

It was Mum calling and when I went downstairs there was Logan and his older brother, Luke, standing side by side each with one of Mrs Grantly’s super scones in their hands.

Luke smiled. “Logan really wanted to know if you’d like to come and play table tennis or see our Dad’s model train and we’re having rugger practice this afternoon. He can’t come to that as Mum has to take him to the dentist.” Logan just screwed his nose up.

Of course, some of us would be meeting up again at two o’clock. Poor Logan. Dentist. But then I’d had to have a baby tooth out when I was six and it didn’t hurt. Grandpa Drummond’s assistant did that.

I had a vague idea about playing table tennis. Jonathan and Geoffrey had set up a table in the garage last Easter and I was allowed to pick up the balls when they missed. Trains sounded better.

I said I would like to very much. I didn’t say which I would prefer. Mum fussed a bit about it being cold so I had to wrap up. Both boys nodded as they had thick anoraks on and Luke had a long scarf wound round his neck.

“You’d better have another of these to keep you warm, too,” said Mrs Grantly holding out a plate of scones. “Two for you, Jamie. Mustn’t let you think you’re deprived!”

All bundled up I followed them out and found they lived just two streets away. Luke was laughing. “Mum said I should bring Logan in case he got lost but he knew exactly where you lived. Next door to the lady with the cats!” I said I preferred the Rolls-Royce and promised to let them know when the man from the garage was coming again.

Anyway, I learned to play table tennis and I was allowed to make the trains run and I made two good friends as I spent a lot of time over that holiday with them. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy being at home, too, although I didn’t learn much more from Jonathan before we went to the second rugby practice that day, but quite a lot after that from both him and Alistair! Alistair didn’t come to that practice as he said he could finish his essay without being disturbed. I did have my room to myself that night on as Jonathan moved back into his own room and he and Alistair shared. Funny, when Geoffrey came they often shut their door and Geoffrey did stay over at least two nights before Christmas. Oh, yes, we arranged to have another practice on Monday. Good!


Great-Aunt Cassie arrived on Saturday before she was expected. “Managed to get a cheap rail offer” she said which made Mum laugh. She had brought some photographs to show us of a ceremony at Cambridge University as she had to make speeches in Latin. I said I would probably have to learn that language at school and it was interesting as she taught me some and said I was a quick learner. She showed me that so many English words came from Latin and it was useful to learn the language. I learned that I was ‘puer annorum octo’, ‘a boy of eight years’. I said that must be like ‘octopus’ and she said that actually came from Greek, ‘eight’ and ‘feet’ so I’d better learn Greek as well! I was really good when she wrote ‘magna cum cura atque diligentia scripsit’ and asked me if I recognised any of the words. I knew ‘magna’ was something to do with large as there was an ice cream called ‘Magnum’ and ‘diligentia’ looked like diligent which Mr McWilliam had said we should always be. ‘Scripsit’ was like script which was writing. She said that Latin most often had a verb, a doing word, at the end of the sentence. I nodded, we’d done verbs with Mr McWilliam and he’d said the Germans put their verbs at the end of the sentence, ‘the boy the ball kicked’ and we’d laughed. When she said that ‘cum’ was ‘with’, and ‘cura’ was ‘care’, and ‘atque’ was ‘and’, I had a go and said ‘Write with great care and diligence’. She said that was good but ‘scripsit’ meant ‘he wrote’ as the endings of words changed the meaning like ‘sits’, ‘sat’. I knew that because we’d helped Jack Pringle when we had prep and had to write words in the past tense and he’d wanted to put ‘writed’. I said that to Great-Aunt Cassie and said it helped me as I had to explain it to Jack and it made me remember better. She smiled and said perhaps I would become a teacher. Perhaps at a University like her.

I got all excited later on Sunday. Dad would be home tomorrow! I wasn’t the only one excited as all the family were, even Grandfather who opened a special bottle of malt whisky when we came home from the carol service. I think he said it was Dalmore. I wasn’t allowed any but Jonathan, Geoffrey, Alistair and the girls had some but Great-Aunt Cassie gave me a sip of hers as a reward for being such a good learner. I nearly coughed ‘cause it was strong.


Dad arrived on the overnight train from London so I was still asleep when he crept into my room “Hi, Tiger!” he said as I woke quite suddenly. I sat up and he hugged me tight. I was too excited to say anything I just held onto him. “All OK?” he asked and I nodded.

“Any news?” he then asked.

I said I was enjoying school but I was glad to be home as well and that Jonathan had been made a Sergeant, we had had two rugger practices and I had been given a chanter by Grandfather.

He laughed and gave me another hug. “Sounds plenty. And I’ve got news for you. I’ve had a promotion, too. I’m a Lieutenant-Colonel from January the First and not only that I’m working in London and mostly here in Edinburgh after my leave. Unfortunately no more Greece for holidays, just cold and wet London and glorious Edinburgh!”

“Oh, Dad,” I said, “That sounds great.” I then said I meant getting promoted, not having to be in cold, wet London.

“Not to worry, the central heating’s OK down there. I’ll be working at the big Ministry of Defence office down there.”

I asked if we would be moving to London? He said we wouldn’t as though he could be travelling a lot he would also be attached to an office in Edinburgh so he’d be home here most of the time. No need to move away.

“Where’s Jonathan?” he asked, “Bit early for him to be out running.”

“He’s gone back to his room. He’s sharing with Alistair.” I saw Dad’s lips pucker into a grin. “It’s OK.” I said, “He’s been forgiven because he was bad-tempered. His girlfriend left him and he didn’t do well in his examinations.”

Dad’s grin was even more. “Real little newshound, eh? Seriously, are they treating you OK?”

I nodded. “They tell me things but they keep laughing and I don’t understand why.”

“You’ll learn,” he said, “It takes time.” Same old reply. He let go of me and stood up. “Better go and disturb your Mum. She was snoring when I looked in so I thought I’d see how you were.”

I smiled. “I love you, Dad, I’ve missed you.”

It was funny. I’d had such a good time in Greece and thinking about it Dad was there all the time and it was really the first time I was aware of how much I loved him and felt my Dad was a special person for me. Must be growing up and thinking more. I snuggled down in the bed and just thought how lucky a boy I was. But, even so, I missed my friends at school, especially Pete. I was rather torn. I loved being home but I liked being at school as well. And it was Monday and I would be meeting my new friends again at the rugby practice. I reached for Mr Lion and whispered to him my thoughts.

I was disturbed by Jonathan rushing in. “Dad’s home!” he announced, “I heard him downstairs. I need some clean pants.” He was rummaging in the chest of drawers.

“I know, I’ve seen him. He wanted to know where you were,” I said.

He looked round brandishing a pair of boxers. He really ought to put something on as he was quite nude and Dad might see him.

“Good job he didn’t come in as we’ve got Geoffrey in there as well.”

“Why?” I was curious.

“Good job why, or why we had Geoffrey in with us?”

“I suppose both?” I had really wondered why Geoffrey had stayed the night. I’d come to bed before the others.

“It was late so Geoffrey stayed and as he snores we thought he’d better come in with us instead of creeping in with you!” He was grinning just like Dad. “Wouldn’t want to inflict that on you. But he does have a nice warm body…” The grin went. “Oops, better not say that, might give the wrong idea.” He smiled then. “Geoffrey’s OK. I hope you find a good friend like him.” That phrase again. “Still time!”

I think I was getting a bit fed-up with all this. I wish I knew a word for it. Something for ‘putting things off until later’. I think I might ask Mrs Grantly or Great-Aunt Cassie. But I had better be careful.

I did ask them both while Aunt Cassie and I were having breakfast and Mrs Grantly was sitting with us having a cup of tea. They had quite a discussion wondering if ‘procrastination’ or ‘postponement’ would be best. It was something to do with whether it was personal or whether it was general. Anyway, I learned two new words and decided that all the things I didn’t know were postponed until later.