This all came to a head at the end of 2012 as well as other things. Grigor and Didier were always on about having never seen Scotland. OK, we said. If you behave yourselves we’ll take you up for the New Year. During the year Didier had found more work. He had appeared in three musicals in the West End and had arranged that if he appeared all over the Christmas in another over-the-top panto he could have the New Year weekend off. Hogmanay, December the thirty-first was on the Monday. Grigor loathed flying so the four of us took the night sleeper from London to Edinburgh on the Friday. We thought there might be something afoot though nothing was being said. The Hogmanay Dinner and Ceilidh was booked and Didier had said at home he was looking forward to the Scottish dances. He said he had studied the steps and, anyway they were very simple country dances, nothing like the sequences he had to learn and perform without error. Two Scottish reelers up-ended the cheeky monkey - as that was what he had been appearing as in a musical version of the Jungle Book - and slapped his truly hairy bottom, though he wasn’t bare as that Scotsman on the birthday card. We knew they had dinner jackets and tailored trousers because of visits to the Royal Opera House. I couldn’t remember if any of the male participants in the after-dinner dances ever wore anything other than the kilt or trews. There were always a number sitting out and watching, these were generally elderly, or visitors from England and would not be attired ready for the dance.
Both lads had a suitcase and a backpack. Extra prezzies for the kids I thought. David II was waiting for us on the station. A people carrier had been ordered to take us and our luggage to the house. He said Ross and his two kids had wanted to come as well but he’d locked them in the basement to keep them out of the way. He smiled as he said that so this was a philosopher with a sense of humour. As we well knew. We arrived to the usual welcome. Ross, David III and FAP were lined up in order of age and size in the hallway behind Dad who had opened the front door. The trio gazed again at the new ‘uncles’ who they’d seen on the trip down to London at the time of Lanky’s funeral.
I was going to try a post-Christmas cracker question later on David III and FAP. ‘Can you get two whales in a mini?’ Answer: ‘Of course, take the M4 and the Second Severn Crossing.’ Collapse of stout parties. A clever mishearing of ‘to Wales’! HaHa!
It was an almost solemn greeting until all four of us and the three of them were hugged. Next was a procession to the kitchen where both young men were hugged and kissed by Mum and Caroline and introduced to Mrs Grantly who was sitting peeling tatties even this early in the morning. When she stood up I realised she was having some difficulty in getting around. “A welcome to Scotland to the pair of you,” she said, “There’s no doubt a dram for you to set you up after that tiresome journey before your breakfast.”
Both Grigor and Didier had been introduced to Scotch whisky and even Grigor said he liked it better than vodka. The smoky, or peaty, taste of the malts they’d tried certainly had made new devotees of the wee dram.
We’d foregone breakfast on the train as I knew there would be a spread ready to more than satisfy four hungry travellers, even Grigor. It was so, then we said we’d rest awhile. It’s always strange that when getting off a train after a long journey one has the illusion that one is still travelling.
Pete and I shared my room as usual - with Mr Lion, of course. Grigor and Didier were in Jonathan’s old room which was empty of all his clobber. As soon as we got upstairs Jonathan and Danny appeared. They wouldn’t or couldn’t say why they were rather busy early on a Saturday morning, but it was a short greeting and they went off back to the office saying we would meet Miles later as he was holding the fort while they wasted time chatting to this odd lot of neer-do-wells including the prize banker. That was Jonathan’s comment and I wasn’t sure if the first letter of the second word of my description hadn’t been changed to a ‘w’ as all that was said quickly as he tried to hurry away.
The three youngsters wanted to come upstairs with us but Caroline had said they could show us their room for visiting Grandpa and Grandma later. This turned out to be one of the refurbished servant’s rooms and was a typical boys’ jungle. No beds, three futons, two desks, a laptop and clothes hanging on the floor, in neat heaps, I will add. Three of the sketches of the three, heads and shoulders done by Pete on that visit to London, were blue-tacked to the wall. Pete said he would update them with new ones as they would then have a record of themselves getting older.
What was new in the house was a lift, even better than the one in our flats. Originally some sort of dumb waiter had been installed between the basement and the first floor where the dining room must have been when the house was built. All this had been cleared out and a lift now went from the basement up to the second floor where our bedrooms were. What was interesting was that Jonathan no longer had his original bedroom but shared a bedroom and sitting-room with Danny. Being nosy I checked on the arrangements. In the bedroom was one double-bed. Danny, with his usual tactfulness and savoir faire, said it was much more convenient, because Jonathan often woke with a cramp which needed massaging and it saved rushing along to his old bedroom. Cramps! My foot!! Ouch!!! I will take that bloody walking-stick away from Jonathan some time.
Jonathan had made his decision, at last, since that night with Patsy Pantsdown was a one off. Later he told me that was the only other time he had been with a woman other than losing his virginity at University. He was free now to allow his inner-self full expression, that is, as far as his injuries at present permitted. We mulled over whether other cases of both sons in a family being gay were on record. My two sisters were certainly not. For Jonathan and me it was definitely in the genes as he also said he was almost certain he was gay when he was fourteen. The macho environment at Kinloch, even just those few years before Pete and I were there, was strongly against displays of sexuality though he knew of pairings, covert rather than overt. He had covered his own uncertainty by being a super athlete and an ardent sportsman. In his view, and that of his schoolfellows at the time, that life-style precluded you being gay. Just those few years ago, but now more and more top class athletes were coming out of the closet, runners, swimmers, divers, and even rugby players. The main sport which kept quiet was soccer with its so-highly paid professionals. The closet door was firmly locked for them. Homophobic fans were a major reason I had been told. Not being a soccer fan I had only once attended a match and that was with the ex-Marines who were Chelsea fans. We did hear a rumble or two which could have been slurs on a couple of players off-pitch activities but, as we were ensconced in seats far from the madding crowd, we watched as a seeming ballet was played out before us.
I knew professional footballers were highly paid as I’d just had two added to my client list. Twenty-two and twenty-three and earning in a week what many hard workers in factories, shops, or on the land, would take several years to earn. Their sporting life would be short so the best had to be made of their income - especially as one had to be freed from a particularly rapacious agent.
Mum and Dad, and Grandfather, had accepted Jonathan and Danny as a couple just as they had Pete and me. My sisters knew and had said at least the Drummond name could continue with Ross. What if? Wait and see? Jonathan did wonder how Ross, his most precious son now ten years old and looking a young Norse God already, would cope with the news that Daddy lived with his boyfriend. Pete and I said it might be better to keep things quiet until he, at least, was at an age to understand there were different shades and expressions of human sexuality. Again, in this age of instant information, ten year-olds seemed more knowledgeable about such things than we were at that age. In any case he knew that his Uncle Jamie lived with Uncle Pete but we hadn’t made anything else evident. Questions would be answered truthfully and fully, later.
Grigor and Didier’s relationship had also been explained to Dad and Mum. On the visit for Great-Aunt Cassie’s funeral Mum had met and had especially taken to Chas and Joe, another committed pair. She did wonder if there was something in the water in London which affected so many young men. Pete said he was sure that it was the freedom to be oneself in a city where many people didn’t even know their next door neighbours. Also, London was a magnet for artistic types, if there was such a category, who tended to have a freer sense of life and so often were gay or accepting. We went through just our own acquaintances, admittedly many artistic, but there were also Adil and Prasad in engineering. Of course, there were Sarg One and Two, as macho as macho, but living most contentedly together. Jonathan knew them both but had never guessed. He wanted to meet them again and we kindly said we could accommodate the Captain and the Major if they were ever free to have leave together. They did have an assistant, Miles Curtis, quite straight so Jonathan assured me, who had the rooms next to them on the second floor. A replacement on site for Sergeant Wilton, but in true rank as a Lieutenant in the Royal Signals. No, he hadn’t been lured into fornication while at the training camp by Pip the Pump, now a Captain herself, as he was dark-haired and six foot two of string beanery. As he and Danny went running most days he had obviously been inspected by Captain Drummond, when in a state of nature after a shower, and was reported as being of more than adequate dimensions. What was meant by Jonathan’s ‘adequate’ was not revealed.
Later in the day Miles was, while I was inspecting the cramp-dispelling sleeping arrangements, deep in conversation with Grigor and Didier. He was fluent in Russian, as had been Sergeant Wilton, though Grigor admitted he now more-or-less even dreamt in English. A connecting strand for Didier was that one of Miles’s sisters had trained at the Royal Ballet School but proved to be too tall for the Corps de Ballet in London so had gone to the continent where she had rapidly risen through the levels and was now a soloist in a ballet company in Sweden where tall dancers of either sex were prized. Miles fitted into the family structure very well. He also played the piano so he and Mum played duets and kept everyone wondering who was top and who was bottom. No, those with dirty minds, please leave the room! It was a matter of who played the top part, the treble notes, above Middle C usually, and who played the bass part, thumping along down below? He also gave Dad a run for his money as they pored over the London Times crossword puzzle each day. Grandfather had sniffed and said he completed the one in The Scotsman in half the time they took arguing over whether ‘i came before e’ in ‘weird’. It doesn’t! Grandfather Sinclair met the lads later in the morning when Grigor was introduced to Mrs Grantly’s scones. They must be good as he managed three with his coffee. Grandfather, too, accepted the pair and welcomed Didier in impeccable, though Scots-accented, French. Grigor wondered about his greeting until told that ‘Failte, mo charaid’ was ‘Welcome, my friend’ in Scots Gaelic.
Grandfather was now very much retired and he, too, looked his age. Once upright and sprightly he was stooped and rather unsteady on his feet. He was still all there mentally but kept to his study most of the time, which was now his bedroom as well, emerging for his meals and games of chess with Danny or Miles if they weren’t busy with incoming or outgoing signals.
Whatever happened in the room on the second floor where the equipment was, and where they sat listening and deciphering and making decisions, was never revealed. I did know there was a connection with the Shetlands and installations there as Sergeant Wilton had made frequent trips up there. He said the islands were so peaceful except when some of the islanders had a drop or two too much of the local illicitly distilled usquebaugh.
Jonathan wasn’t able to walk far yet and resolutely refused to be pushed in a wheelchair though when he visited the local hospital for on-going treatment and physiotherapy they insisted he moved from department to department in one. Because of this he said he wouldn’t intrude on any of outings with the youngsters. We wanted to show Grigor and Didier Edinburgh Castle so after lunch Mum drove us four there with the young trio being driven there by David in his car. He said he wanted to collect something from a bookshop and would be back in an hour and a quarter. I asked him why hadn’t he booked the people carrier for the whole weekend as we would need to be driven around to see many things and he wouldn’t have to bother? It must be living and working with Scots as the philosopher then said that two cars were already in the possession of members of the family, both had petrol in their tanks and there were at least two competent drivers so, why pay out good money on a people carrier, when suitable transport was already paid for? Scots logic at least! From a non-Scot!
Mum was able to park very close to the castle - military influence, no doubt - and we walked up in the chill air to the imposing entrance with the motto above it of the Scottish James VI and Scottish regiments: nemo me impune lacessit. Grigor and Didier were staring up at it. The three young’uns had seen it before. Ross showed he was Jonathan’s son. He looked at the pair. “You understand that is in Latin and it is the little fish’s motto? Nemo. The little fish in the film?” The pair played dumb. Didier, at least, with his earlier schooling in France and in the Jesuit lycée, must have studied Latin.
“Ah, I have seen that film,” said Didier. “‘Finding Nemo’. I saw it with the group I teach dancing to at the studio. The little fish was lucky to get away.”
“Yes,” said the developing piss-taker, “It says his name, then ‘Don’t play tricks with me!’” Right on the ball! Almost the translation for any belligerent Scot: ‘Dinna ye meddle wi’ me, Jimmy!’. The precursor for many a fight outside a pub so I’d been told.
Ross turned to Grigor. “Do you know what Nemo means because nobody does?” Clever. ‘Nobody’ does, for the translation. That’s probably buggered my ‘Whales/Wales’ crack, I thought!
Given that Grigor was relatively new to English, and all its intricacies of pronunciation and spellings, he wasn’t caught. “But I do know,” he said putting out a hand and tweaking Ross’s ear beneath the beanie he was wearing. “I think his father called him Nemo as he could be nobody, but I like a fish with body. Something to get my teeth into. Like fish and chips which I hadn’t had before I came to England.”
Mum was standing next to me. “You’d better introduce him to that Scottish delicacy Fried Mars Bar.” I’d heard of it but never felt the need to experience it as it was something like two thousand calories a go someone had told me. Perhaps Mum had also picked up on Grigor’s insatiable appetite. Three of Mrs Grantly’s scones were not to be taken lightly. But I’d also read that the Mars Bar thing and over-eating was a contributory cause for the bad health of many Scots. Grigor never seemed to put weight on, he just worked the calories off by being very active. That reminded me. I had told the pair to pack their running kit as we would be pounding the pavement to the park in the morning with the military - Danny and Miles, not Dad these days.
Ross wasn’t put out by not getting away with his leg-pulling. He grinned at Grigor. “When we get inside you mustn’t try the crown on, only the Queen can do that.”
“I expect if I tried to pick it up all the bells would go off, isn’t that so?” Grigor had been to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels there.
Ross nodded. “Yes, and I wonder what would happen then?”
Didier was listening. “I think that sentry would stick that bayonet in him and put you both in the dungeon.”
Ross turned to him. “Why me?”
“Because you would be the one who suggested it.”
Young David piped up. “He always gets me into trouble. He’s always suggesting things.”
“Such as?” Didier asked.
“He said I should put salt instead of sugar in the bowl when my father wasn’t looking,” the younger lad said. I thought, knowing David Senior and his absent-minded ways when working, he probably wouldn’t notice thinking the sugar had lost its savour, or whatever the Bible said.
“Of cause not! I put salt in Ross’s little pot of honey instead.”
“I thought it tasted funny. Nearly made me sick,” Ross said. Then he laughed. “Paid me back for stitching up the leg of his underpants.”
Their Grandma Drummond was laughing. “Come on. We’d better get in as I’m freezing out here.”
As we went in, with Ross and his two young cousins leading the way with David keeping up with Grigor’s longer strides and Francis holding onto Didier, Mum said to me and Pete sotto voce. “It’s amazing but the trio get on so well. We’ll wait and see what Francis has to say.”
We then heard Francis say quite confidently to Didier. “It’s alright we all tease each other and that motto says ‘nobody provokes me with impunity’. Dad explained it to me and I like those big words. Did you know what it said?” Wow! Just coming up to seven!
“I admit I did, I had to learn Latin at school in France,” Didier said. “But your cousin is good. He made me think.”
“I mustn’t say but he had a very good report from that school he and Davy go to and our cousin Matthew is there as well. I’m going there as well when I’m eight.”
“All four of you there at once?” Didier said and laughed. “I pity the teachers.”
“That’s funny. That’s what Granddad said.”
Pete nudged me. “I think Mr Tuddenham will have their measure when they get to Big School as he knows their combined Dad and Uncle!” We knew Tuddy and Jonathan had been great pals. I had a feeling these four would be full of merry japes as well. Oh, and there would be another going to Kinloch once he was eight. Another cousin, Brucie MacFarlane.
I could see Grigor and Didier liked being with the boys. Not having any brothers or sisters themselves they had said before they had wondered how kids got on together. Today was a good introduction to parenthood - if it should ever happen to either of us couples. I’d got on well with my sisters and Jonathan, and Pete had said his sisters, though quite a bit older, always put up with him.
Ross was in full flow when we looked at the Honours of Scotland: the Sceptre, Crown and Sword. He obviously knew their history and Grigor and Didier listened attentively. Ross was so like his Dad and that extra bit of intelligence must have come from Patsy Pantsdown who we knew was very bright herself. We had heard Ross and a pal were in charge of the same dorm I and Pete had been in and also headed up when we were his age. Three years from now and he would be in Big School.
We watched the Changing of the Guard, the squaddies with cloaks over their uniforms. Pete nudged me. “Bit chilly in the willy area, eh?”. He didn’t say it quietly enough. Ross heard him. “I know all about that,” he said. “Unc says I’m too forward for my age but it’s what boys talk about, don’t they?” ‘Unc’ was Ross’s name for David.
“That is very true,” said Pete, “But don’t believe everything they tell you.”
“Unc says I should take most things people say with a pinch of salt.”
“Like in your honey pot?” Pete said with a grin.
Ross giggled. “Will you and Uncle Jamie explain things if I ask?”
“No doubt you’ll ask us awkward things, eh? But we’ll answer them if we can.”
Grigor then said it was time for food and it was on him. We went to the Castle café and he and Didier had the three youngsters sitting round one table with them and answering all sorts of questions about where they came from and what they did. Even young Francis, almost seven, wasn’t swamped by the older pair. One of his questions was very perceptive. “You say you aren’t brothers but do you live together?”
Had a six-year-old discerned a relationship or was it a question about where they lived? Didier answered it very cleverly. “We were at the same school in London and when we left and had to go to College to learn more we had to live somewhere and your uncles found us a place to live. So we live together where the basketball hoop is.” The boys knew the mews.
Grandma took over - all food and drink had been consumed. “Right, coats on. We have three and half minutes to get you three to your father’s car.” No one demurred. Grandmother’s instructions are law.
David was already waiting. He was chatting to the sentry who was saying he would be glad to get off duty. So to home for us and more questions, no doubt, from the trio. David dropped the boys off and said he would be back on Monday with Caroline for tea and then the Hogmanay Dinner and Dance. Yes, leaving us to entertain the kids!
However, the next two days passed quickly. The run in the morning was quite an affair. Luckily no snow overnight so all kitted out in sweats, with shorts and singlets under, Danny, Miles, Grigor, Didier, Pete and I set off slowly until we got to the park and then did 20 circuits before coming back to a hot shower and breakfast. I was very pleased, our two visits to the gym each week paid off, and Joe and Chas’s treadmill helped as well. Pete and I ran steadily and it was Grigor who slowed down towards the end. “Too much exercise last night?” I asked. He just nodded.
After breakfast Dad drove us and the two lads to see the Royal Yacht and then on to Stirling just to see the Castle from the outside. The weather was turning and the roads had been well-gritted but we did stop for a pub lunch. When we got back home the trio had been taken to be kitted out for the Hogmanay Dinner. Ross and David would be wearing the kilt but Francis had decided he wanted to wear trews and was proudly saying he would be like Grandpops as they were Sinclair tartan. Grandpops was my Grandfather, so their Great-Grandfather. Grandfather said he wouldn’t be going to the Dinner but had a friend coming in to play chess, but he would wear his trews, too.
Grigor and Didier were commandeered to read to the boys at bedtime. This was after slightly riotous games of Ludo and Snap with young Francis beating Grigor at the second game. It was decided the book at bedtime would be none other than Treasure Island. My old copy which Mum had bought me as I had to return the school copy. I don’t know who was more exhausted - the trio or Grigor and Didier.
Sunday certainly wasn’t a day of rest. However, with the fall of snow in the night, no run and no Church. To the delight of us all during the morning Didier appeared in his dance pants, tight top and soft shoes and with Mum playing the piano went through a whole repertoire of dances from ballet to sequences which he had done at College or with Joe and Chas. Mum was marvellous. She found all sorts of music from the hoard and even unearthed a copy of ‘Sound of Music’ and had us all singing along as a very coy Didier von Trapp, as it were, showed his skill in ‘Do, Re, Mi’, ‘Favourite Things’, ‘Eidelweiss’ and ‘Climb Every Mountain’. I watched as young Francis tried to match Didier’s movements as he sat watching. Would he want to be a dancer when he grew up? How would that fit with being at Kinloch? After lunch he was full of questions even at that young age. When did Didier start to dance? Did he learn to dance at school? Was it difficult? Could he come to London to see him dance?
Didier explained he had started before he came to London but dancing wasn’t taught at his previous schools in France which were very strict so he didn’t learn it there. He had lived in Paris with his Grand-Maman as his parents were away most of the time in Embassies abroad. Grand-Maman had been a ballet dancer when she was young and he had been taught after school time by a retired ballet master from the Opera in Paris. He said he enjoyed doing it and wanted to get better and it was difficult at times. Each movement had to be repeated and practised until it became easier. “Grand-Maman did not tell my father as I do not think he would have allowed it. When I came to London I told Papa what I wanted to do and he did allow it then.” Yes, I had guessed Grand-Maman had money which his father didn’t want to disappear. I looked at Pete who was smiling. He nodded. Arrangements would be made for the trio’s next visit and one outing at least would be to a show. Chas and Joe would be roped in, too.
Just before teatime young Francis went off and came back in vest, white underpants and socks and asked if Didier would show him a dance he could do. Mum played a slow waltz by Tchaikovsky while Didier showed Francis how to place his feet to ‘1, 2, 3' and to raise his hands and to do a little turn. We watched as a seeming transformation took place. A small boy before my eyes within moments became in my imagination a lithe eighteen year old as Didier had been when we first knew him. Francis at his young age moved smoothly. There was a gracefulness. Francis repeated the first movements and Didier added to them and when Mum finished the piece Ross and David clapped leading the applause. We had truly seen something. Didier bent down and kissed Francis’s forehead. “I would teach you all I know.” I looked at Mum. She had tears in her eyes.
After dinner that evening and the boys were safely in bed after another chapter of ‘Treasure Island’ we all had a dram and Mum said the thing which impressed her apart from the dance was the way in which both Ross and David had accepted the display. Jonathan, who had watched quietly while the lesson was given, said he was amazed at how Francis had followed the instruction so precisely. Perhaps Kinloch wasn’t for him, perhaps only for the Prep School. I knew there would be family discussions when Caroline and David appeared on the scene.
Hogmanay dawned and no more snow. Paths needed clearing so that was done instead of the run. Spades and scrapers a-plenty and muscle development elsewhere. I noticed Didier went off upstairs with Danny and Miles and Miles disappeared during the morning when a car arrived and took him off. He was quite promptly back and Didier got a thumb’s-up. Just before lunch Geoffrey turned up with his bagpipes in their case. He went off with Grandfather and the two lads to the study/bedroom and while I and Pete were getting the breakfast-room laid for a buffet lunch we heard the pipes being played. “Another lesson, I expect,” said Pete, “For the pair.” Three inquisitive creatures appeared from up in their room.
“Who’s playing?” asked Ross, “Sounds very good.”
I was no connoisseur of pipe music but I’d heard the tune before and more than once at Highland Gatherings I been to with Grandfather. The lads would be having a treat, other than being in the confines of a smallish room because even I knew that Geoffrey was a good player. Not satisfied in hearing the tune once it was repeated after a pause. Then a third time with much laughter when it finished and Grandfather led the way out. Geoffrey said he had to hurry back home as his mother was feeding twelve for lunch and he didn’t want to miss out. “See you tonight!” were his parting words. I assumed we would be seeing Julian as well.
Out of sight of Grandfather Grigor was smiling at Didier and then put his fingers in his ears. He then saw food being brought from the pantry by Mum and Danny. Not quite a rush, but... As we collected plates and various delicacies from the serving platters there was a ring on the front door bell. “That’ll be Lieutenant Murdoch,” Danny said, “I’ll get it.”
As was custom, or orders, the place had to have someone military here twenty-four hours a day. Everyone, other than Grandfather, would be going to the shindig at the Conservative Hall. I hadn’t met Lieutenant Murdoch, a replacement for Sergeant, really Major, Winton, and others down the time-line. He turned out to be mid-twenties, six foot one at least, in civvies, but wow, Scots Guards, I was told the last by Jonathan in a whisper. The trio had seen him before. All these were types of uncle to them and Nicolas Murdoch was Uncle Nic. Just Nic to the rest of us. He was a real Highland Scot but with an English accent. English Public School, no doubt, but I didn’t enquire which one. He had a pocket full of those metal puzzles you get in expensive Christmas crackers. Two each for the trio and that would keep them occupied for... Ross had opened his first packet and ten seconds later was showing two separated rings. His father sitting on a chair away from the table gave him a poke with his walking-stick. “Put those away and I need a glass of that juice there.” Ross was nothing if not obedient. Father was passed a brimming glass and chomping all round began.
Pete and I had to be introduced. “I could see you and the Captain and brothers,” he said to me as we sat round the table, plates in front of us.” He knew Pete’s name. He had seen the drawings and the portrait of Jonathan he had done for my parents for Christmas. He had inspected Grigor and Didier and surprised us by greeting both in their native language when told they were Russian and French. “Did Modern Languages at Cambridge, St Mark’s College.” Oh, that was Great-Aunt Cassie’s and her friend’s College, and where Geoffrey and Julian had been students. He knew them both but Great-Aunt had retired before he was up. Small world.
Jonathan did let on later that Nic was based in Princes Street which was the hub of the whole enterprise which was not talked about or inquisitive beings might get the chop and he didn’t mean just their foreskins. Of course, he had been most inquisitive himself about Emory and Ethan as he’d seen photos of the paintings. I knew Pete had brought his very special sketchbook with him. The one with careful drawings from all angles of those dangling wonders. There were some also of them wholly and magnificently erect. Jonathan, like, I guessed, about ninety plus per cent of Brits - including me and Pete -, was fully in possession of his prepuce. But, of course, curious about those without.
As usual it was decreed that a rest should be had after lunch for the evening was likely to be hectic after the Dinner and it would be a very late night for most. I knew Mum had arranged with Mrs Donaldson, Geoffrey’s mother, for her to come back with the young-uns at half past ten so they would be there for part of the Ceilidh. I knew Mrs Donaldson suffered from arthritis which was painful if she sat in one position for any length of time and she wouldn’t be able to join in the dances anyway.
I and Pete were in our room resting when Ross came in and climbed across between us. “I’ll rest here,” he stated, “David is with Uncle Grigor and Francis is with Uncle Didier.” That was that. All three of us slept and rested as instructed. Pete must have woken first and when I woke up with a sleeping Ross in the middle of the bed with my Mr Lion on the pillow above him he handed me his sketch of me and my nephew looking so peaceful and guarded by a watchful Mr Lion. “I wonder sometimes...” he said quietly. We smiled at each other. My sleep had been so peaceful and full of light.
It was getting near five o’clock - way past our usual teatime. I gently shook Ross awake. He gave me a seraphic smile. “I’ve had a lovely dream but I can’t really remember it. I know I’m going to be happy.” He leaned up and kissed my cheek. “One for you, too, Uncle Peter.” We felt happy ourselves receiving that benison. I was sure my nephews would be successful in whatever they chose to do.
We crept along to the next door room. Here two larger figures, back to back on the double bed, had two smaller ones held in their arms. A tight squeeze, but all was still and silent except for the sound of their breathing. Pete was rapidly sketching. In two minutes the scene was recorded much better than any photograph. Pete whispered “Wakey-wakey”. Four pairs of eyes opened and there were smiles all round. “I have had the loveliest of dreams,” Didier said. “I was dancing in a green valley...”
“...and there was a river running,” said Grigor.
“...and I saw fish dancing in the water,” continued David.
“...and I heard someone say ‘Come and join the dance’ so I did,” said Francis and leaned over and gave Didier a kiss, not on his forehead but on his cheek. “I want to dance.”
“You will and we’ll all be happy,” said Ross.
We adults had all experienced something quite wonderful and so had the boys. It was something to be thought about, perhaps not to be discussed in detail. Didier did say as we went downstairs that he had ideas for a dance sequence if only...
Caroline and David II had already arrived when we got downstairs. Mum and Dad had snoozed in the drawing-room and Jonathan had been with them. “At least it’s a bit quiet in our world today. Nothing much doing so Danny says. Miles will see to things until we go out tonight. I hope it stays like it.” The three youngsters were quiet. Nothing was said about our dreams but Nic Murdoch came along from the kitchen.
“I’ve made a big pot of tea and there’s cake, too.”
It wasn’t quite a concerted rush but Grigor was pouring cups of tea, milk in first, and had a big slice of Christmas cake on a plate beside him by the time all had assembled. Nothing was said outright about the dreams but everyone just seemed so happy. Ross and young David were telling Grigor all about Kinloch and were saying he and Uncle Didier should visit there. “Not much good going there at the moment,” Jonathan said from his perch on the chair between him, the cake, and Grigor. “Only old Mrs McIver’s ghost wailing from the tower.” This was a favourite new story we had been told. It wasn’t a spook but one of the Sixth Formers had taken his bagpipes up there and was practising just like the ghostly Mr Muir had done in the field behind McCrae’s House all those years ago. Both Grigor and Didier promised to visit on Commemoration Day.
Pete went off with Mum to the dining-room. He had said he would tell her about the dreams we all had had during our rest. He would also drop the hint that young Francis might want to do something other than spending all his school life at Kinloch. Caroline and David should be told, too. Mum told me later she had been quite enchanted while Didier showed Francis the dance steps. She would talk to Caroline before they took the boys back to their home the other side of Edinburgh the next day.
Time was passing fast and Caroline said to the boys they must go upstairs and get dressed. She went with them as they rushed up the stairs so eager to be kitted out ready for the Dinner and the Ceilidh. “I’d better go up, too,” said Jonathan with a sigh, “I’ll have to wear my trews with this leg and I promise there’s nothing in your sporrans.”
That story had been told to the lads and had also been related to Dad after a rather bibulous evening when he had visited us in Bloomsbury. He said he knew something was going on and he told us the first thing squaddies did after the mirror-walk was to pop into the nearest public lav and put on their panties.
Didier and Grigor smiled at each other as Grigor cut himself a thin slice of the heavily marzipanned and iced Christmas cake. Pete and I went off and used the two-man lift to get to our second floor. We had a quick shower with no shenanigans and then helped each other to buckle on our kilts, Drummond for me and Douglas for him. We did check our sporrans but nothing other than a handkerchief was inside. We had been told to assemble by six-forty-five as the taxis would be here at seven. Fourteen of us to be transported so three five-seaters would be in attendance.
Pete and I were down early and found Dad all ready so smartly dressed in kilt and black jacket in the drawing-room. Dad said my mother was still arranging her hair. All three of us looked smart. He and I were of a size though I noted he had put on a little weight. He patted his stomach. “Must cut down a bit. Your friend Dr McIntyre says it’s not good to put it on at my age. My age! I’m not ancient yet.”
A voice came from behind. “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” It was Jonathan, who even with his limp and walkingstick still managed to appear silently. He was also smart with his Drummond tartan trews and black jacket.
“Damn boy!” Dad said, “I can’t help what my hair does.” Dad had gone grey slowly.
“Better than Uncle Hamish, he must have grown taller and his hair parted like the Red Sea to let his head through.” Jonathan said and sat on the nearest chair. Uncle Hamish was quite bald!
“Watch it, lad! You’ll get old and wonder where your get up and go has gone.”
Jonathan was incorrigible. “I can still get up and Danny helps me go.”
Rather forthright, but Dad must know of the sleeping arrangements. Dad just laughed.
I had noticed that Jonathan had let his hair grow, no longer short back and sides. It wasn’t curly like mine but had a natural wave to it. He must have seen me looking at him because he took a comb from his pocket and arranged his hair on his left hand side. He winked at me. “Curly locks, curly locks, where have you been?” It was another of his teases when I was much younger. ‘Curly locks’ instead of ‘Pussycat’! It ended up something about crapping under the chair. I gave him a trademark sneer.
“I suppose no parades now so you can show off your unruly thatch,” I said, “Tuddy told me you and he vied with each other for who had the longest hair before Mr Francis told you to get it cut.” Captain Francis had been in charge of the CCF and was always a stickler for neatness. Pete and I did get praised for keeping the Storeroom tidy. Luckily he didn’t know about our little adventures there and it was obvious Paul Campbell and Fergus Cowen never let on about that pseudo Court Martial.
“True, but we only did it to show a bit of independence. Can’t let the beaks have all the power.”
Dad was laughing. “Don’t you believe it. I got several little hints about activities which are better not remembered.”
He looked from Jonathan to me, and then winked at Pete. Did that mean he knew... Luckily others started to come into the room. Danny and Miles were in standard Royal Stewart tartan kilts. Grandfather then came along with Mum, he in Sinclair tartan trews and she with her Drummond plaid over her shoulder. Her long dress was in a close shade of red and she looked most elegant. David was next and matched the other two in his tartan. He said Caroline would be down in a moment. Francis had needed the lav. Caroline then ushered the three boys in. She matched Mum and the three youngsters were a picture. Two in Drummond tartan kilts and black waistcoats and Francis in Sinclair trews with a waistcoat, too.
I counted up. Thirteen so far. Where were the tardy ones. My watch said seventeen minutes to seven. It might have been a minute out. What was keeping the pair. They only had to put their dinner jackets on. Mum let out a giggle. We all looked at the open double doors. It wasn’t quite entry of the gladiators but two fully garbed kilted young men entered. Of course, Royal Stewart again but very well-tailored. The fit of their jackets was perfect and I noticed that Grigor had a waistcoat under his jacket but Didier had a fine pleated shirt with a jabot. Both had silver-mounted sporrans to complete the ensemble. The suitcases plus backpacks were explained. All I hoped was they weren’t going commando underneath.
Grandfather was smiling. “We are all ready. Please get into place for the annual photograph.” Nicholas had a digital camera and we took up positions quickly. Three clicks and flashes.
“The taxis are here,” Nic said as he went to open the front door and we sorted through the coats hanging in the lobby. Mum and Dad went with Jonathan and David in the first. Four down! The three youngsters held onto Didier and Grigor and they took the second, all in the back. This left Miles and Danny, Caroline, Pete and me. Miles said he would sit in front with the driver. Caroline was more or less laughing as we four got into the back.
“What am I to do,” Caroline said and did laugh. “Ross is so like my brother it’s unbelievable and now I have a miniature Nureyev to contend with.”
Danny had been with the family long enough to know all the ins and outs. “Caroline, you have a perfect family all round. I still get black looks from Uncle Hyman whenever I go home and go to see Auntie Rachel who’s the only one I get on with. None of them think I’ve got a proper job. And your boys will make up their own minds what they want to do.” He laughed. “I like the Nureyev bit. If that’s what he wants you mustn’t stand in his way.”
“Thanks Danny,” she said that with a laugh, she hadn’t taken offence at his statement. “My dear David will say the same and I won’t put my oar in unless things go awry.”
We bowled along. Much to think about. Especially what might be on the menu tonight!
We all arrived safely and looked for our tables. Mum and Dad went to one of the oldies tables followed by David. Jonathan, with Miles and Danny, was on a table which was all male and military. Most had mess jackets plus kilts or trews under. I found that Pete and Caroline and me, plus Grigor and Didier were seated with Geoffrey and his sisters together with Julian and his unmarried sister and her friend Mary Finch. Mary reminded me we had been at Miss Pruitt’s school together and she was a teacher now down in England. Ouch! The twelfth was Alison Henderson, Luke and Logan’s cousin I’d met before. We were well sorted and were soon chatting together. Congratulations were in order, too. Julian had had his oral examination the first week of December and was awarded his PhD. Wow! Doctor Jenkins now. Me, still a BSc. Perhaps I might improve on that sometime.
I then looked at the menu. Lovely, it was to be Venison again. Scotch Broth first with the usual Tipsy Laird to finish. The MC tapped his gavel and announced the evening would begin. Thank Goodness, no speeches tonight. Waiters appeared with bowls and soup was ladled out. After the soup course the ceremonial carrying-in was accompanied by a new young piper and we soon set to and demolished well-filled plates. Oooh! Tipsy Laird, full of sherry I was sure. This, plus the red wine with the venison, set the tongues wagging. I explained to Mary that Pete and I were together as were Grigor and Didier. Mary laughed, she knew about Geoffrey and Julian, but then her cousin Logan and his boyfriend were also here. Logan? She nodded to a table one away from ours. I hadn’t seen Logan for years but he was recognisable all grown up. I found he was a Fellow in Engineering at Cambridge. Oh, no! At my departed Great-Aunt Cassie’s College. The boyfriend, Curt, was manager and part-owner of some club in Cambridge.
By now it was time for the Ceilidh to start. Tables were cleared and moved. The band was ready and the first dance was announced. An eightsome reel, make up your own eights. Well, we had our eight as the husbands came back to claim Geoffrey’s sisters. Caroline stayed with us as she saw David had one of his female colleagues in his clutches. The two lads must have been over the moves as they dipped and dived and partners changed and were reclaimed and they never put a foot wrong. Nor did we as I said to Mary, “We were taught well at Miss Pruitt’s”.
Two dances later and I was exhausted. The MC then announced a special dance would now be performed. A space was cleared and two of the officers from Jonathan’s table brought out two ceremonial swords and laid them on the floor. Geoffrey then appeared with his pipes. He started a very familiar tune and played through one phrase. I remembered it was the sword dance tune I’d heard the day before, ‘Ghillie Callum’. A dancer appeared and began the most poised and almost statuesque sword dance I’d ever seen. Of course, it was Didier. Where and when had he learned to do this? He had discarded his jacket and looked quite delectable - to my eyes - in his pleated shirt, jabot and well-tailored kilt. The dance finished too soon for me and for the other watchers, too. The applause was almost deafening. Cries of ‘Encore!’, ‘Encore!’. Didier bowed and said something to Geoffrey. Geoffrey turned and said it would be repeated in five minute’s time. Didier had been dancing for ten minutes which had passed so quickly. I noted that quite a few re-filled glasses were downed in that five minutes. To more applause Didier re-emerged and he repeated the whole dance again. It was the highlight of the evening not only for me but for all. I heard quite a few comments that he would have won any cup or medal going at any of the numerous Gatherings. I found Mum and Dad and they were so praising. Three boys came along. “Did you see Uncle Didier, Grandma?” an almost breathless Ross asked. “Wasn’t that brill!” Didier appeared and shook hands with Geoffrey. Didier you are amazing. He went up to Mum. “That was a thank you for all the kindness I have found with your family. I hope it went well.” Mum hugged him. He was family!
The rest of the evening wasn’t an anti-climax. We finished up with a Conga - why I do not know - but the whole place almost shook until there was a hush and we heard the midnight chimes and the band struck up ‘Auld lang Syne’. A New Year dawned. 2013.