Living With Johnny

Chapter 4

Anne came back to the bungalow just after four. She looked shattered. Apparently, the two lads who were supposed to have helped set up for the reception in the function room had not turned up, so Anne and Marge, Jack's wife and really the boss of the Anchor, not only had to prepare the food but also lay out the tables and set them. Fortunately, the boys and girls who did the waiting had turned up, and the actual meal had run smoothly. Now the party was into the dancing, so she had slipped out to get some rest. She would have to go back later to help with the clean-up.

"Guess who the DJ is?" she commented.

"I've no idea."

"It's Arthur, the lad who brought Johnny home last night. Told him to pop round when they've finished."

"Bit strange having a youth-club DJ for a wedding," I observed. "Would have thought they would have gone a bit upmarket."

"I think it was more the case what they could get in the time limit. If they had waited much longer, they could have probably had the wedding and christening together." She laughed and then said she was going to have a lie-down, but if she dropped off, I had to wake her at six.

I got back to my writing but did not get very far before the crunch of gravel announced that Bernard had come back with, I hoped, Johnny. I went to open the door; as I did, they both got out of the car laughing their heads off. Johnny went round to the boot to get his bike out.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"My godson has been filling me in on Beryl's French friends. I've picked up enough gossip on the eminent lady to keep me in lunches for the next six months."

"Be careful, Bernard, I think your source might be a bit biased."

"My dear boy, where Beryl is concerned, he can't be biased enough." I had known from the start of my marriage to her that Bernard had never really liked Beryl. He had only agreed to become Johnny's godfather because I asked him, but there seemed to be a bit of venom in his attitude now. I wondered what she had done to upset him. I also felt a twinge of sympathy for my ex. Bernard might come over as your jovial-uncle type of solicitor, but I knew for a fact that he was one of the hardest operators in London and had contacts all over the place, most of whom owed him more than one favour. If my ex had upset Bernard, I don't care how long ago it was, now she was no longer caring for his godson; he would regard her as fair game.

I asked Bernard if he wanted to stay for dinner, but he declined, saying he was meeting Debra and the family in Chelmsford. Micah's girlfriend was in a string quartet, and they were playing at a festival there over the weekend.

"Got to get up there and listen to cats being tortured. Could do with a coffee or two if you're making."

I led him through to the kitchen and put the kettle on. Bernard perched his bulk on one of the stools by the breakfast bar and then took out his wallet and started to count out twenty-pound notes. Just then, Johnny came in.

"Ah! Johnny, just the chap," he exclaimed, "count these for me, can you?" Bernard handed Johnny the notes he had counted out. Johnny counted them; there were fifteen. "Good, they are yours."

"What for?"

"For each of your birthdays that I missed because your mother did not want me to have contact with you. Thought I would be a 'disreputable influence'. Can't cover the Christmas and Hanukkah presents at the moment; need to keep some cash for tonight. The boys will expect me to pay for everything. Let me have your bank details, and I'll send it to you on Monday." Now I knew what Beryl had done to upset Bernard, at least in part. She had kept Johnny out of his life as much as she kept him out of mine — if not more so. Also, I knew damned well Bernard did not give Hanukkah presents; he celebrated Christmas, though called it Yule, and gave gifts then. The giving of presents at Hanukkah was a relatively modern development which had arisen amongst the Jews of New York who did not want their children to feel left out of Christmas gift-giving.

Johnny left the kitchen to go and get his bank details. I raised a questioning eyebrow. "What? I've been deprived of fifteen years' pleasure in spoiling my only godson; I need to catch up." Johnny returned and gave Bernard his bank-account details. I gave Bernard his coffee. Just then, Anne came through to the kitchen.

"Thought I heard voices," she commented.

"So, you've got him to make an honest woman of yourself," Bernard quipped.

"I hope not; he's only marrying me." She and Bernard embraced and kissed each other on the cheek.

"More expense. Not only do I get lumbered with my favourite godson—"

"Your only godson," Johnny interjected.

"Thank the Lord for small mercies. As I was saying, not only do I get lumbered with my only godson, I also have to fork out for a wedding present. I'll have to put my fees up. How will my poor clients manage?"

"Bernard, you don't have poor clients," I interjected.

"Yes, I do. You!" he responded. After that, we sat and chatted about nothing in particular for half an hour, then Bernard made his excuses and departed for Chelmsford, muttering again as he left about the torture of having to listen to cat's guts being scraped for two hours. He claimed he was sure it was covered by Article Three of the Human Rights Act.

Anne went back to have another lie-down, and Johnny went to his caravan. I decided I'd better do something about preparing a meal, guessing Johnny would be pretty hungry after a day at work. At six, I went to wake Anne. No need. She was just getting up, so I went back to start cooking a fry-up. Only then I heard the crunch of a vehicle coming onto the gravel drive, so I looked out of the window and saw a J. Lee & Sons van parking up by the caravan. I put some more bacon in the pan, feeling that this time Arthur would probably be staying for a bit.

I was right; he joined us for the meal. Then, after Anne left to go back to the Anchor, he sat with Johnny and myself in the lounge chatting about things in general. It came out that Arthur had wanted to do A-levels then go to Cambridge to study computer science. However, his father was insistent that he was going to take over the family business — that is, no need for qualifications — and had insisted he leave school immediately after his GCSEs. This was, I gathered far more common than you might think; a couple of Arthur's school friends were also in the same boat. For the first time, I started to see some benefit in the government's policy of raising the school-leaving age to eighteen. At least then, kids like Arthur would have a chance to get the qualifications they wanted.

I was more surprised to learn that although Arthur was generating a couple of thousand pounds a month for the business, he only got twenty pounds a week in pocket money. He was not officially on the payroll, being regarded as family help. It appeared that the Brethren community his parents belonged to took the view that all money coming into a family was the property of the head of the family, who doled out what the old man thought each family member required. Arthur was quite adamant that the moment he turned eighteen, he was leaving home. Actually, I was tempted to tell him that legally he could leave home at sixteen with his parents' permission and at seventeen without permission, but I thought better of it. Though legally it was possible, it could also be quite tricky as parental consent was still required for all sorts of things.

Arthur left just after eight, saying he had a long day tomorrow. Apparently, the family went to meetings in Chelmsford, and on Sunday there would be three services, the first at eight o'clock in the morning, which meant they had to set out about seven.

Anne returned just as the Arthur was leaving. I made coffee for her and Johnny and tea for myself and suggested we should sit in the lounge as I needed to talk to both of them. Once we were seated, I gave them a quick resume of the codicil I had added to my will and told them about the new will I was getting Bernard to draft for me. I also told them that the sellers had accepted my offer on the Priory and we should be in by the beginning of May.

That led to a discussion about whether Anne should put her place on the market. I was opposed to it as I felt that Anne needed some security that was not dependent on me. It was Johnny who suggested that maybe she could let it. Anne commented that it would need redecorating first, and Johnny offered to give her a hand doing it.

On Sunday morning we were all up late. Johnny, being the first up, started to make breakfast. I commented on the fact that he could cook. Johnny advised me that if he had not learnt to cook, he would probably have starved when he was home with his mother. Probably a valid point. I can't actually remember my ex ever having cooked a meal — warmed one up in the microwave, yes; cook one, no. When we were married, I did all the cooking. At times, I suspect that is what she married me for, the fact that I could cook.

Once breakfast was over, Anne and Johnny vanished off to her place to start sorting it out. I did not envy them that job, I don't think Anne had got rid of anything since her husband died, which was about twelve years ago. I got on with sorting out everything I needed for the meeting with Zachary Mayer the next day. Bob had sent me an email with a whole list of things that I needed to take along with me.

It was about two when I had got everything ready for the meeting, and I started to think about cooking Sunday dinner but decided I did not feel like it. There was a brisket of beef in the fridge, but that would keep for a few days and would probably be better for it. Most butchers these days do not let the meat hang long enough. I phoned Anne's place and, when she answered, suggested driving down the coast to one of the small pubs that did decent food. Not that the Anchor's cooking was terrible, but there were a couple of places along the coast where aspiring young chefs had taken over pubs and were now starting to make a name for themselves.

Anne thought it would be a good idea, so I phoned around and found a place that had some recent good reviews where I could get a table for seven o'clock. I called Anne back and gave her the news. She commented that both she and Johnny were working hard and needed some sustenance before then and suggested I should take some sandwiches over. Knowing when I had been given an order, I got some sandwiches made and took them over, which resulted in me being roped in with the sorting and packing till five, when we decided to get ready to go for our meal.

Overall, the meal was a bit disappointing, not that there was anything particularly wrong with the food. It was good, just not enough of it. The service though was totally over the top and somewhat pretentious, with plates being laid before us covered with a cloche that was then whipped away in a triumphal presentation of the food beneath. I'm sorry, but that may work in the top-of-the-market eating establishments in Town, but in the backwaters of Essex, it does not work.

It was just after nine-thirty when we got back to the bungalow. Given that I had to leave early in the morning to get into Town by eleven, I opted for an early night. Anne joined me, still a bit whacked from the reception on Saturday. Johnny asked if it was alright for him to use my computer for a bit, so we left him to it.

I had agreed to meet Jane Talbot at Liverpool Street station. That meant setting off at eight-thirty at the latest if we were going to be at Hatton Garden by eleven. As it was, I managed to get away just after eight and arrived at Liverpool Street Station about a quarter to ten. I had arranged to meet Jane at ten and was walking towards the designated meeting point when a young woman in her mid-twenties approached me and asked if I was Mike Carlton. I confirmed that I was and asked how she knew?

"You look a lot like your brother, and I took over his accounts last year."

I remembered Ben had said something about how impressed he was with his new accountant. We went to one of the nearby coffee shops. Jane looked over the emails that Bob had sent me and the papers I had put together in response. She asked a couple of questions about my affairs, which were quite penetrating, and I was impressed that she seemed pretty well-briefed about things.

This first meeting did not take as long as I had expected, so we had a bit more time to get to Hatton Garden from Liverpool Street, which was fortunate. There had been some sort of disruption on the tube, and everybody was trying to get a taxi, of which there appeared to be a dearth. Given it was a sunny Spring day, we decided to walk; it was only just over a mile, and it was fairly clear that by the time we got to the front of the taxi queue, we could have walked it.

The entrance to Zachery Mayer's office turned out to be a discreet black door situated between a sandwich bar and an upmarket jeweller. If you had not been specifically looking for it, you would probably have missed it. The corridor behind the door led us through to a small reception area, where Bob was waiting for us. About five minutes after our arrival, we were taken up in a lift to Zachery Mayer's office. As we entered, Zachary got up from his desk and came round it to shake our hands as Bob introduced us.

"Mike, I've been told I have got to treat you as family," he stated as he shook my hand.

"Really, why?"

"My cousin Bernard called this morning on another matter but mentioned that you are the Mikey that Aunt Ruth talks about. The goy who spoke Yiddish better than all her nieces and nephews."

"How is Aunt Ruth? I haven't seen her for ages."

"Aunt Ruth is Aunt Ruth, she's ninety-seven at the end of this month and still thinks she twenty. She's in a nice residential place just outside of Brighton with a mind that is sharper than mine. Though her body lets her down, which annoys her, it is a blessing for the rest of us. If she was on her feet still, it would be hell for the rest of the family." I knew what he meant. When she had not been thinking of things in the far distance, Aunt Ruth had been a whirlwind of organising zeal. She organised everything, including a couple of my birthday parties when I had lived in Golders Green.

We sat down, Zachery had tea and coffee brought in for us, and then we started to discuss business. He told us that he had looked over my royalty statements and knew the level of income I was getting from that. In principle, he had no problem in providing funding for one million secured against my royalties, though he did need some assurances on certain things.

The main issue he raised was: would I be bringing out an update of the maths book? I had not thought about that, but it made sense; it was ten years since I had written it. There were quite a few new developments that should probably be included, such as SMathStudio and similar computerised mathematical tools. Also, there were some area of maths I had not covered which were now becoming essential. Upon reflection, it made sense, so I told him that I would.

He pointed out that there were two options that he could offer. The first was a straight one-million-pound bond secured on my royalty income. That would be at four-and-a-half-percent interest, which was a lot less than I would have to pay on a bridging loan from my bank. My royalties would be payable directly to the bondholders until such time as the bond was paid off. A quick calculation told me that it would be about fifteen years.

"That," stated Jane "could result in cash-flow problems for you concerning your income tax."

"Yes," Zachary agreed, "the royalties assigned to the bond would be classed as income, and you would be liable for income tax on them. There is another approach that we can follow, though this will have a slightly higher interest charge; it will be five percent." Again, that was a lot less than a bridging loan. I asked what it was?

"It's a bit more complicated. We set up a charge on your current property and one on your new property when you acquire it. In return, you set up a mandate by which half the royalties you receive are paid in to pay off the loan. When you sell your current property, the proceeds of that sale are also put in to pay off the loan. From what Bob has told me you expect to get somewhere around four hundred thousand."

"Actually, I am hoping to get a bit more, something like four two five," I responded.

"Let's stick with four hundred thousand for the time being," Zachary continued. "Paying off the four hundred will leave a loan of six hundred, and that should be more than secured by the value of the new property," he glanced at the papers in front of him, "the Priory, which means effectively you have a mortgage of six-hundred-thousand pounds. The thing is this is at a fixed rate for the life of the bond, which will be ten years. If you have paid it off in the ten years, all well and good; if not, you should be able to get a re-mortgage to clear it, and that should be for a considerably lower amount."

For the next ten minutes or so Jane and Zachary were in a conversation which I must admit I did not understand. At the end of that, Jane asked if there was somewhere we could speak privately. Zachary buzzed his secretary and asked her to take us to the conference room. Once there, I asked Jane what she thought.

"The first option is by far the most cost-effective, but you cannot afford it. You don't have enough alternative income to take the tax hit. So, you are stuck with option two."

"What I can't see," I responded, "is where Zachary makes anything out of this deal?"

"Oh, Mike, that is simple. Zachary places the bond with one or more investors who want a fixed income over ten years; they will be paid fifty thousand a year in interest. You, however, are repaying interest and capital each year. The capital that you are paying in each year is available for Zach to use. That's where he makes his money, using the capital that you have repaid to fund other projects until it is required to repay the bond.

"What you need to be aware of with this type of deal is that the interest is five percent on one million each year of the ten years. So, if by year ten you have paid off nine-hundred thousand of the loan, you are effectively paying fifty-per-cent interest on what you actually owe. Over the whole of the ten years, you will pay five-hundred thousand in interest; that's a lot of money."

"Is it a good deal?"

"Given your circumstances and the fact that you do not have a guaranteed income stream, yes, it is. I think you would have problems getting a bridging loan or a mortgage from one of the high street outlets, you would have to go to the secondary markets, and they will be charging well above these rates. However, I think I might be able to get you something better."


"I don't know yet, let's go back in and speak with Zachary."

So, we went back in, and I might as well not have been there. Jane negotiated with Zachary in terms I just did not understand, all I heard was a lot of jargon and something about scrips and options. I had no intention of writing scripts. When I said that to them, they laughed and told me they were a type of debt instrument. In the end, it turned out that I had a line of credit for one million pounds over ten years, but I could pay off capital in lump sums, reducing my interest payments every two years. Jane said it was a good deal, so I agreed to it. Zachary said he would get the papers drawn up and sent over to Bernard. Apparently, Bernard had sworn Zachary to let him see anything before I signed it. Zachary would have done so anyway.

That agreed, the three of us departed. I invited Bob to join us at a nearby coffee shop, but he excused himself, saying he needed to get to Foyles; one of his authors had a signing this afternoon. With that piece of information, he left, and I thanked my lucky stars that I wrote academic texts, not popular books. No need for me to traipse around the country signing copies.

Jane did take up my offer, so we found a table, and I went up to get a coffee for Jane and an Earl Grey for me. When I brought them to the table, I sat down and asked: "What was that all about scripts and instruments, it didn't make sense to me."

"Right Mike, the original deal on offer was a straight million over ten years. Basically, Zach would lend you a million, against the security of your royalty stream and the property. You would pay five percent per annum on the million, that is five-hundred thousand over the life of the bond.

"Now Zach is going to loan you a million over two years…"

"But I can't pay …"

"Hold on, Mike, I know you can't pay off a million in two years, but you can and probably will pay off four-hundred thousand when you sell your present place." I nodded in agreement. "So, at the end of the two years, you will only need six-hundred thousand to finance, right?"

"Well, yes, if I have sold the property."

"When the original one-million bond comes up for repayment, Zach will loan you six-hundred thousand for another two years. If you haven't sold the property, he will have to lend you a million to pay off the first one. The important thing is that these are two-year, fixed-interest loans. As a result, the cumulative interest is lower. The initial million is at five-and-three-quarters percent. If you apply half your expected royalty income to paying off interest and capital and you sell the property for four-hundred thousand at the end of the first two years, you will owe five-hundred-and-fifty thousand.

"You have the option then of either rolling it over into another two-year loan or paying it off, probably using a standard mortgage on the new property. By then, hopefully, you will have three years of high royalties from your maths book, which should be enough to get a standard mortgage.

"The risk, of course, is that the interest rate is only fixed for two years. If the bank rate goes up from its current rate in that period, you could find yourself clobbered with quite a high rate. The good side is that you can pull out in the second year if you want to, while Zach is required to refinance you to the end of the ten years if that is required. At the end of the ten years, if the rates stay roughly where they are at the moment and your royalties stay roughly the same, you will end up owing just over a quarter of a million." I must have looked worried.

"Don't worry, Mike," Jane continued, "I had a look at your pension fund this morning, it's already worth nearly that, and given the next ten years, should be a damned sight more. If the worse comes to the worst, you can use that to fund the final payments. Hopefully, though, that will not be necessary. From what Bob was saying before you went in, your book on programming for kids should become a standard textbook under the requirements for programming for the under elevens."

I had completely forgotten about that; it was a book I wrote about five years ago as a simple introduction to computer programming. Actually, it was never really designed as a book, just some notes for the nine and ten-year-old sons of my cousin. I had mentioned it to Bob one day and he had hawked it around, and after a rework, it was published. It's been a reliable seller for three years now, between two and three thousand copies a year. At nine ninety-nine I get ninety-nine pence per sale — not much, but it all helps. However, computer programming is now being introduced as a subject for the under elevens. That would be an ideal market. Schools will need textbooks, and textbooks means repeat sales.

I wish I had taken more notice when Bob and Jane were chatting in reception, but my mind was elsewhere at the time. I'm in Hatton Garden, and I need an engagement ring!

Jane had to go off to see a client in Docklands. It was no use me going to any of the magazines I did work for until after two, so I set off to look around the jewellers in Hatton Garden. There were a couple of beautiful rings that I thought would do for Anne, but they were quite a bit more than I wanted to pay. Then I saw it sitting in the window of Prestige Pawnbrokers — not a new piece but an antique ring set with a single Asscher cut stone. There was something Art Nouveau about the ring and the mount; it seemed somewhat familiar. Then I remembered, at the start of last year I had done some work for the De Amsterdamse Diamantbeurs. I had made several trips over to Amsterdam. On one of them, I had been shown a collection of historic jewellery. There had been an almost identical piece in that collection. I could not remember who the jeweller was, but he was highly rated.

I went in and enquired about it; the lady advised me that it carried Dutch marks for 1907, which made sense. The Asscher brothers invented that cut in Amsterdam in 1902, and it became very popular but was replaced by the emerald cut. However, many in the diamond industry feel that the Asscher cut gives more brilliance. The ring was more expensive than I had planned for, and it was also the wrong size, being an N+ while I knew Anne's size was O. It was, though, only a half-size change which could be made easily by any competent jeweller.

The thing was that the ring would be perfect for Anne, so I handed over my debit card and took the hit. My intention had been to spend about two grand for a ring; this was three-thousand five hundred, almost twice what I intended. Fortunately, I had made a transfer into my current account the day before, expecting to buy a ring while I was in Town today. Unfortunately, I had not transferred anything like three-and-a-half grand, and this purchase almost depleted the account. I would have to make another transfer as soon as I got home.

Twenty minutes later, I was in a basement workshop which the lady in Prestige had directed me to, observing a craftsman tap the ring down on a steel mandrel. It was careful and precise work quickly and expertly completed. More to my surprise it only cost me a tenner. Cash, please.

I called in at the offices of two magazines I wrote for from time to time. There was no immediate work on offer, but at least I had shown my face, which meant I had reminded them I was still around. At least one of them wanted something for the Christmas edition; they plan early. Then I set off to get back home. Not fancying getting on the tube, at least not with a three-and-a-half-grand ring in my pocket — the underground is rife with pickpockets — I hailed a cab, which got me to the Liverpool Street Station in less time than it would have taken me to walk to the tube.

The trains to Southminster run regularly, and I had only a few minutes' wait at the station and was in Southminster by a quarter to five, which put me just ahead of the rush-hour traffic, and I was back in Lynnhaven just after six-fifteen.

Johnny was in the kitchen when I got in, and there was the scent of something cooking filling the room. "Hi, Dad," he greeted me as I entered. "Didn't know when you would be back, so put some pork chops in to braise with baked potatoes. Will be about an hour; is that OK?"

"That's fine," I had not thought about food. Must get into thinking I was no longer alone and had to think about feeding others. "Where's Anne?"

"She's gone to see her sister; said she would be back about seven." Of course, it's Monday. Anne often went to see her sister on a Monday afternoon. She lived about twenty miles away and was disabled, so as a result did not get out much. Anne would go over and take her shopping.

"Look, I'm going to get changed. Could you knock me a quick sandwich up? I've not had anything since breakfast."

"OK, Dad. Cheese and tomato do you?" I said yes and then went to change. When I got back, there was a plate of cheese-and-tomato sandwich and a mug of tea waiting for me.

"So, how was your day?" I asked. "Did you go to the yard?"

"Nah, Steve does not want me till tomorrow. I did some work on the computer; I'll be glad when mine arrives." I did not tell him that I had intended to buy him one while in town but had spent out on the ring. "Checked the stuff Masterson sent me. He's a bit of a lazy sod; he's had it since Friday but only emailed it to me last night.

"There was a mock maths paper, so I had a go at it; I think I did OK, but could you look at it for me, please."

"Of course. I've got a lot of work to catch up on this evening, but I'll look at it first thing tomorrow."


"So, what else did you do."

"Not much. Went for a ride around on my bike; wanted to explore a bit. You're pretty isolated here, aren't you?"

"Yes, there are a few hamlets around if you know where to find them, but the nearest town is Dunford. That's about three and a half miles if you use the ferry and cross over the marsh, but if you go by road, it is more like twenty."

"Didn't go up that way. I followed the road going out the opposite way. Didn't see anything."

"You wouldn't," I informed him. "That road follows the sea defences that were put in after the flood of 1953. Most of the hamlets are a good mile or two back from where the old coastline was."

I finished my sandwich and tea, then went to my study to sort my bank account out. Moved three grand from my immediate-access savings account to my current, then gave 28 days' notice on my high-interest account to move three grand from that to my immediate-access savings account. My next task was to put the ring in my safe. I actually had two safes in the study; one is a reasonably standard floor safe under the carpet at the side of my desk; the other is a small wall safe mounted behind my desk. The only way you can get at it is either to move the desk, which is quite tricky given that it is a heavy Victorian piece of furniture, or to remove the bottom two drawers in the desk. You can then reach through to the safe door. It's a bit of an operation as you have to lie on the floor to get to it.

The floor safe contains mostly papers, a small amount of cash — just over a hundred pounds — and a quantity of foreign currency that looks like quite a lot but is in reality only worth about twenty pounds. There is also a box containing several gemstones. Again, they look like a valuable collection but in fact are synthetics and only have a small value. A friend in the police had advised me on the setup. If I am under duress, I can give away the location of the floor safe and anybody opening it will think they have hit the jackpot. It is only after they are well away will they find they have a load of junk.

Not sure if it would actually work, but I have kept to it. The only time I was burgled, they never even found the floor safe and walked out into the hands of the local police. Anne had known I was away and seen lights on in the bungalow, so had phoned the police.

Anyway, with a bit of gymnastics on my part, I got the safe open and popped the ring inside. Now all I had to do was decide when to give it to her. I knelt on the floor and replaced the bottom two drawers in the desk.

I had just finished when the phone rang; it was Bernard. I quipped that he was working late and got told that he always worked late on a Monday. I recalled it was Debora's bridge night, and Bernard could not abide bridge. Anyway, he had called to let me know that he had got the papers from Zach, but he would not be able to look at them till Wednesday. If all was OK, we would need to arrange a session to sign them. Bernard then suggested we go to his place in Kent for dinner on Saturday; it seemed that Debora wanted to congratulate Anne and meet Johnny. I provisionally accepted but did say I would confirm after checking with Anne and Johnny.

Anne got home just after seven, and over dinner I passed on the invitation. She said yes, so immediately after dinner I sent Bernard an email confirming. Then I got down to sorting out all the emails that were waiting for me.

Johnny came in to see me and asked if it was OK for Arthur to bring him home after the youth club tomorrow.

"How are you getting there?" I asked.

"I'm going directly from the yard; I'll cycle over the marsh. Arthur says he can put the bike in the back of the van to bring me home." It seemed a perfectly sensible solution, so I gave my assent. I then got back to processing my emails, which, as usual, took longer than expected. Amongst them was Matt's formal report on the Priory. I read it through, but nothing was surprising; he had told me most of it on Friday.

The following morning, I phoned my bank and spoke to my account manager. She quickly confirmed what I suspected all along. Given the 'unreliability' of my income — her words not mine — the most they would be prepared to advance me on a mortgage would be one hundred thousand. Even with the proceeds from the sale of this place, I would still be short on what was required for the Priory. Anyway, it was made very clear that a bridging loan was out of the question. The deal from Zachary looked very much like the only game in town.

It was then that it hit me: I would have to pack everything here up. Everything here in this comfortable life I had built myself in the last fifteen years was finished. I started to walk around the bungalow, ticking off mentally the things that would move to the Priory with me and those which were not wanted or not suitable. It soon became clear to me that the majority of the stuff that I had acquired in the last twelve years was not going to fit in the life we would be living at the Priory. I decided I was going to have to do some shopping.

Before that, though, I had to check Johnny's maths paper; he had left it on my desk for me. I spent the better part of an hour going over it. As far as I could see, Johnny had made a pretty good job of it. I made a couple of notes on it where I thought he could have used a different method to get the solution. Once that was done, I was ready to leave.

Johnny had left early to go to the yard, and Anne was over at her place doing a final tidy round before the agents came to discuss letting it. I phoned her to tell her that I was going out and would not be back till the afternoon, then drove up to Dunford. My first port of call was at J. Lee & Sons to speak with Arthur about internet connection to the Priory, but he was out on a job, so I left my card with his mother and a message asking Arthur to call me.

The first time I had visited J. Lee & Sons I had noticed a small shop in the same street selling bespoke furniture. Today I called in and enquired about getting a desk built to fit in the bay window at the Priory. It was a bit of an odd size, and I had found nothing on the web that looked like it would fit. I knew damned well that my current desk would look totally out of place there. The young man who came from the back of the store to serve me assured me that there would be no problem making such a desk and showed me a bespoke desk that was just being finished in the workshop at the back. I was impressed; I was even more impressed when he gave me an indication of the price involved. It was not that much more than what I would be paying for a decent-quality, off-the-shelf desk.

I then drove into Chelmsford to get myself some stuff from Hobby World. It is surprising how much easier it is to describe something if you make a model of it rather than just reading dry academic literature about it. On the way to Hobby World, I noticed a PC World, so parked and went in. Johnny had a reasonably decent laptop, but it was with his things that were supposed to be sent on. When they would arrive was anyone's guess, and I half suspected that they might not come at all.

I decided that the best course of action would be to get something he could use as a stopgap but would also be useful for him later even after his laptop turned up. It was one of the things I was going to talk to Arthur about, but not seeing him and my being here, I decided to go ahead and get Johnny something anyway. In the end, I bought him a netbook; I also got a wireless router and a top-of-the-range HP OfficeJet printer/scanner/fax combo unit. The Officejet would be useful to both of us.

Next, Hobby World, to get some polystyrene balls and wooden rods. At the moment, my major piece of work was writing a manual that had to describe a series of polymer reactions. The research scientists who had developed the process had provided piles of documentation with some very nice scientifically notated diagrams that illustrated what took place — if you could make head or tail of the scientifically notated diagrams. The rods and balls would allow me to make some three-dimensional models of the polymers and, with a bit of luck, would enable me to understand what was going on. The assistant in Hobby World looked at me as if I had gone mad as I first emptied their shelves of two-centimetre polystyrene balls, then moved off to leave yet another shelf of packets of six-inch wooden rods. I had done this type of exercise before, and one soon learnt you could never have enough balls or rods.

Seeing a Halford's as I was driving out reminded me that Anne had said Johnny needed some waterproofs to wear when riding to and from work if the weather was bad. Once again, I parked and went in for another shopping expedition. Not only did I get him the waterproofs, but I also got him some high-visibility vests to wear and a helmet. I fully expected him to object to the latter; what fifteen-year-old wouldn't? It was something I was going to insist on. 

I had only just got back to the car when Arthur phoned. I explained to him that I had wanted advice about a computer for Johnny and the internet for the Priory, then said I had gone ahead and got the netbook for Johnny. Arthur said the netbook was fine and that if Johnny's laptop did not turn up, I should consider getting him a decent desktop rather than a laptop. Concerning the internet connection for the Priory that was likely to be a problem, and could he discuss it with me when he brought Johnny home tonight?

Anne was back when I got in and was busy preparing dinner. She congratulated me on remembering to get the safety gear for Johnny. While she finished cooking, I went to my study to catch up on my emails. The was one from Bernard saying he had checked the papers from Zachary and all was OK; he was sending them to me by Special Delivery so they should be with me in the morning. Could I sign them and get them witnessed and then send them to Zachary? The Special Delivery was something I personally doubted, given that we were almost the last house on the postman's round, and by the time he got to us, he had done over twenty miles. Then again, I probably got more post than the rest of his round put together; there was not a day when three or four technical journals or magazines did not drop through my letterbox. Most of them immediately went into the pile to be processed into fuel blocks for my multi-fuel stove come winter if we hadn't moved to the Priory. Now that was one job I could pass on to Johnny.

After dinner Anne went into the lounge to watch television. I did the washing up, then went to my study to make models. It was just gone ten when I heard the sound of tyres on gravel and realised that Arthur had brought Johnny home. A bit early, I thought, but decided to go into the kitchen and make some hot chocolates. I asked Anne if she wanted one. She responded: "Yes, if you can put a shot of rum in it." She had started sniffling that afternoon and thought she was coming down with a cold.

I had just got to the kitchen when Johnny and Arthur walked in. They both confirmed they would have hot chocolates. I pointed them in the direction of the boxes from PC World. Johnny immediately wanted to get the kit set up; Arthur, though, advised against it, saying that we needed to work out where to put the router. One thing I had not taken into consideration was the fact that the caravan had metal walls which would reduce the strength of the wireless signal. He went out to his van and came back in with a metering device. A simple test showed that not only was there not enough signal from my study, where the internet connection was located, to reach the inside of the caravan, but there was not enough to reach the lounge. That surprised me, but Arthur told me that a lot of the nineteen-fifties bungalows around this area were built using iron bricks. At first, I thought he was referring to bricks made of iron — the term was not known to me — but Arthur informed me that they were made from clay that had a high, iron-oxide component.

After a bit of trial and error, we found that if the router was placed in the hallway, it covered both the office and the caravan. The only downside was that it needed an Ethernet cable from my study. Fortunately, Arthur had the require cabling and connectors in his van. It was only later that I realised that Arthur, knowing what I had got for Johnny, had probably come prepared.

Once they had got the router sorted, they came back to the kitchen for their chocolates. I commented on the fact that they were back early. Johnny informed me that there was no disco on a Tuesday, and as there was not much going on, they had left the club at nine. That raised the question of why it had taken them so long to get here — a question I quite sensibly decided not to ask. As my father had told my mother when she had asked me where I had been with Rachel Moore: 'There are some answers a parent needs to know; there are some a parent would like to know, and there are some answers a parent does not want to know. Now stop your questioning, woman.' He never really liked Rachel; said there was something slimy and devious about her, which probably explains her current position in the Cabinet.

I asked Arthur about internet access at the Priory, and the news he gave me was not good. It seems it was too far from the exchange for ASDL to work — or at least work at any level that would be acceptable. He did say that there was good 3G coverage there; all three major networks had transceiver masts between the Priory and Dunford, mostly to cover the Blackwater. Long term, though, I would probably have to look at putting a private cable into the network, and that would be expensive. I asked him about his beamed wireless, but apparently, he had no users on that side of the town, so there was not a relay point he could connect us up to. During this, Johnny was busy getting his netbook set up, so not paying much attention. However, when Arthur stated that until we got a cable connection anything like Netflix would be out, he suddenly became interested. Arthur assured him that he would be able to sort something out so we could get decent internet.

After that Anne went off to bed, and I went to my study, I often write late at night — or to be more exact in the early hours of the morning. The boys went to the caravan. About an hour later, I heard Arthur drive off, I made a determined effort not to think what they could have been doing for that hour.