By Paul Jamison
I woke early not having had a brilliant night’s sleep. There was just too much garbage trolling around in my head for that. My mum’s funeral was getting closer and decisions about me were going to be made, and although people were asking me lots about what I thought, and what I wanted, I just did not feel sure that what I said was really being listened to very much.
Physically I felt better. My lacerated arm had healed up and the rest of the cuts and bruises had healed just fine. I was actually looking forward to getting back to normal activities again… except I didn’t know how long I’d be staying where I was or even if I’d still be at my school after the next week. I felt really crappy in actual fact and now I had to go downstairs and have breakfast as if nothing were wrong and then go and ‘chat’ to Will’s dad who seemed to know my granddad from years back in the Navy and it was all to see what could be done ‘for me’ whatever exactly that was supposed to mean. The fact of the matter was, I missed my mum like hell, and felt really bad inside.
I got out of bed and put some warm clothes on as I would be going out to next door in a while and went down to the kitchen for some tea and toast. It was always a help yourself breakfast except for the occasional Sunday when Will said Paul did the full English for everyone. As I entered the kitchen I saw Will sat knees up in the corner window seat, nursing a mug of tea in his hands staring out of the window and down the street.
“Hi, you okay?” he asked bringing his head round to look at me. “Kettle’s still hot,” he added smiling.
My face must have betrayed me as before I could answer him he said
“You’re not actually, are you?”
“Um… no… not really,” I managed to answer.
Will shot out of his seat put his tea down on the kitchen table and went to the worktop, switched the kettle on, got a mug out of the cupboard, dropped a teabag into it, added a heaped sugar and then turned back to me while the kettle was returning to the boil and said
“It’s all beginning to feel like crap inside, isn’t it?” he said matter-of-factly.
I nodded and then my eyes started streaming and I sat down suddenly in the seat Will’d just got up from and cried like a five year old. Immediately I felt Will sit down beside me and pull me into a hug. It felt really nice and I managed to get control of the waterworks and look up.
“I’m sorry,” I managed to mumble. “You’re right. I just feel like crap inside.”
“I know. I did too when my mum died and did again when Gran died too, though not as much as when Mum died,” he explained still with his arm around my shoulders comforting me.
I felt Will relax his grip and take his arm away. Then he said
“Tea and toast, right?” as he got up and attended to the kettle and the toaster. I must have nodded and very quickly a mug of tea appeared and I gratefully took it and took a swig. Then not long after two pieces of buttered toast and marmalade were on a plate ready for me.
“Thanks,” I managed to say as I struggled up out of the window seat and sat at the table to drink the tea and munch the toast.
“It’s going to be okay, you know. My dad’ll fix it with your granddad for you to stay here. You’ll see. He just has a way with people and somehow or other they usually come round to his way of thinking.”
“Really?” I said with what must have appeared to be an incredulous expression on my face.
“Really, really,” Will laughed. “Yes, if anyone can fix it he can. Seems he’s known your Granddad and well that’s usually enough. You’ll see, it’ll be okay.”
I finished the toast and took the dishes to the sink. Will looked at me and said
“You’d better go to the loo and give your face a rinse. You’re all red eyed. Then I’ll take you next door, all right?”
“Yes, okay,” I said and shuffled off to do as he suggested. A few minutes later I came back and Will said
“Right, let’s go round there. By the way don’t try and bullshit him. He can suss it from miles out. It’s just not worth it. I learnt that when I was little,” Will laughed.
I grinned weakly back at Will and after we’d both put our coats on, followed him out of the kitchen door and over to next door where he rapped loudly on the glass door panel before trying the door. Finding it unlocked he went in beckoning me to follow and called out loudly…
“Dad… Dad, are you here?”
“Yes, come though,” came a voice from the hallway. I followed Will and Commander Barnes was standing by the sitting room door smiling at us both.
“Thanks, Will. We’ll manage from here,” he said to Will and Will turned and passed by me to go back. I must have looked apprehensive until Commander Barnes came forward and took my arm and gently led me through into his sitting room. He indicated a large leather armchair and I made myself comfortable. He took a seat in a similar one opposite me and then said
“I want to get very clear in my mind what you feel and what your hopes and aspirations are, such as if you’ve thought as far ahead to any career path, all that kind of thing. I really want as much information as possible if I’m to persuade your grandfather, whom I knew onboard ship many years ago for a couple of full tours, before I was posted elsewhere and began to specialise. So, what can you tell me?”
“I’ve lots of comparisons between my school and the nearest one to where Grandad is and they’re not too good. They’re in my room. Would you like to have those?” I asked.
“Yes, certainly. Give them to me at lunchtime after we’ve had time to chat and I’ve had time to chat to your mum’s boss Adrian who you must have met too by now. I know him well, as he happens to be my lawyer too. So you see Chris there’s quite a line up on your side of the fence so far.”
“Yes, he’s been making all the arrangements and he’s asked me lots of questions about what I want as well,” I replied.
For the next hour I just poured out my thoughts and feeling to Will’s dad and answered his questions without hardly realising he was asking any. Then he looked at his watch as I ran out of things to mention and he said
“I think we’ve covered just about all the angles, don’t you?”
“Um… yes, sir… I mean Commander. I think so,” I replied.
Right, I reckon so too. So you slip back next door and have those bits of research you’ve done ready for lunchtime, and don’t forget to get your homework finished this afternoon. I simply want you to act and assume that you’re staying exactly where you are and carry on with all your school activities just the same as you did before this situation happened. Got that?”
“Yes, thank you very much,” I said, as I got up and he showed me back to the kitchen door and I quickly crossed over to ours and went back in.
The smell of bacon grilling hit me the moment I was through the door. Will, Jus, Craig and Liam were making bacon butties.
“Hey, where’s mine,” I said, grinning at them all.
“You’ve survived the inquisition then?” Will asked.
“Yeah, your dad’s really thorough; I got asked loads of questions every which way until he’d got the last detail I could remember I wanted to say.”
“How many rashers, Chris?” Liam asked me, as he started to lay more bacon on the grill pan.”
“Two’s fine. We’ve got a Sunday roast soon, haven’t we?”
“Yeah, but that’s hours away yet. That’s going to be this evening, not for lunch. We’re on our own. Rick, Paul, Will’s dad and Adrian are all going to the pub for lunch and a conference. Prolly all about you,” Liam explained, grinning widely at me.
“Oh, three then, if I’ve got to last till this evening,” I replied.
“So, it’s homework, then some chores to get some veggies ready for dinner, then dinner at six, okay?” Liam announced.
“Oh, right,” I said, taking the mug of coffee Justin passed to me as he’d just made a fresh round and added me in. I sat down until the bacon was ready.
Just then Rick and Paul came in, dressed to go out and said
“Liam’s in charge and we’ll see you guys at about three. Be good, bye for now.”
We all said “Bye” back and carried on with drinking coffee and preparing the bacon rolls. Once we’d done that and cleared away, Mrs Naylor arrived to collect Justin, and Craig went off back home to do his homework. Liam and Will headed to their rooms to do homework and I did the same, feeling a little bit better than I’d done when I’d woken up that morning.
* * *
Rick, Frank, Adrian and I had just enjoyed a snack lunch and were
imbibing a welcome pint of beer at our local pub when
“So, guys, what’s the verdict?”
“We’ve sufficient info and pros that now heavily outweigh any cons that Mr Griffin might come up with over Chris staying with us now I reckon,” Rick replied.
“I agree. We’ve got his property size… unsuitable, schools… too far
away with a totally different curriculum and examination structure for Chris to
slide into without any disruption to his education. We’ve also got his mother’s
express wishes in the will on that too. There’s the minor, but not unimportant
point of poor internet access for studies and finally Mr Griffin’s general
unwillingness to get involved in any of the forward plans for Chris… He’s
simply been avoiding the issue by saying it’s something to discuss when he gets
here for the funeral. To my mind the plans should be pretty much in place by
then, to be honest,”
“He’s simply not good at taking the initiative,” Frank said and added “This was true when I knew him before. He’s good at following set procedure, he knew the rules and could apply them, he knew his job and could do it well, but as for thinking outside of the box, it didn’t feature as one of his skills, I’m afraid.”
“Have we got a coherent alternative to offer the guy that will be almost impossible for him to refuse?” I asked.
“I believe so,” Rick chipped in. “I’ve been looking at the rental possibilities of Chris’s old home. It’s perfect and I believe your property department could get vetted tenants in there for a fair rent almost immediately. That’d totally finance Chris’s needs for the time being. We’ve room for him. I believe he’s fitting in well with us. We like him and he’s certainly well liked by the other two. Will’s gone out of his way to be friends and has shown an insight into his feelings too. I’m sure that’s because he too lost his mum and very recently his grandmother.”
“I’m sure that’s the reason and it’s Will being his true self,” Frank added.
Everyone nodded agreement and then
“Coming back to the property, yes, I’ve had an excellent appraisal of its potential from our property department that we’ll put to him when we present the possibilities to him. I mean the administration of the estate stays with our firm. It’s only the guardianship issue that’s up in the air to be honest. As it stands at the moment he’s sole guardian. He can take Chris back with him, ignore completely his daughter’s wishes and send him to a Scottish academy school. Or he can transfer guardianship entirely and wash his hands of the matter or he can do what Frank’s done regarding Will and give guardianship powers to Paul and Rick here to act in loco parentis for Chris on his behalf until he reaches his majority. We’d need the same extra provisions in case anything happened to Mr Griffin until Chris reaches eighteen, of course. The income from the estate would be in trust until then, but can be drawn on for legitimate living and educational expenses. They can all be met from the funds. Renting the house out keeps the property in the portfolio for Chris when he’s older and provides an income for now to see him through till then. It’s the obvious way forward,” he explained.
“I agree, and I’ll do my best to guide him round to that way of thinking before he sees you for his meeting on Tuesday morning,” Frank said, and added “I don’t think it’s going to become a major problem. I mean it’s been some time now since the accident and Marylyn’s unfortunate death. He’s hardly been in touch with the lad at all during that time. Chris told me this morning, that he was the one who called him, because he’d heard nothing from him himself and that was a day or so after it happened. Quite extraordinary behaviour in my opinion.”
“Yes, I recall Chris asking if he could call his Grandfather now you mention it and it was a very short call… something like ‘very sorry to hear… how are you… are your injuries getting better…’ and that’s about it… said goodbye and rang off. No discussion whatsoever as to what happens next or what arrangements might be made. We were rather taken for granted in those first few days,” I said.
“Right, he is coming down tomorrow. He’s leaving Glasgow Central on
the noon train arriving here at just after five pm. Frank’s going to meet him
and take him back to his place and he’ll stay there. It saves opening up
Chris’s house and getting stuff in there, but more importantly, it’ll give
valuable time for chats and discussions with hopefully the outcome we all hope
for, Chris included. I’m as certain as I can be that he’s keen and I also feel
it’s actually the best for him too in the long run,”
“I agree. We had another chat with him yesterday to make sure we weren’t just steamrollering him into our plan for him, and that he really did want to stay here. He was adamant that he did, and hopes we can arrange it,” I replied.
“Yes, everything he said to me today would indicate that he’s very keen to stay down here with his friends and continue at the school he’s in. I’m perfectly happy to support his wishes to Chiefy Griffin,” Frank added.
“I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon and let you know how things are,”
I said, and added “I don’t suppose you’ve got yourself a new P.A yet?” I asked
“Not quite, but we’re down to second interviews with two ladies. One’s from a bit of a way away too. Hmmm… I’ve just had a thought. Okay, yes, thanks, Paul, if you’d do that please and keep me up to date.”
With that we finished our drinks and headed back home. Frank excused himself as soon as we got back to go and sort out his mail, but he said he’d be round just before six to eat with us.
“See you later then,” we both said as Frank headed towards his own door and we turned towards our kitchen door and went inside.
* * *
I was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework when Rick and Paul came back in.
“Hi,” I said
“Hi, Chris how’s it going?” Paul asked.
“Okay thanks,” I replied.
“Why homework down here?” Rick asked.
“Um, there’s no desk now the little computer room’s dismantled and being a shower and there’s no desk or chair in my room you see,” I explained.
“Of course, sorry, won’t be like that for much longer, I hope,” Rick replied.
“Let’s bring you up to date,” Paul said, as he sat down opposite. They then spent five minutes explaining what had been discussed and what they hoped the outcome would be and how things might be with the house and all that’s sort of thing. I listened and then said.
“So it looks quite good then for me to stay here and carry on at school?”
“On paper, yes. It’s all down to your Granddad now though,” Rick replied.
“Now, let’s just assume for a moment that he agrees. How do you want your room here? Would you like all your things from your old house brought over and the room decorated in similar style or… what would you like?” Paul asked.
“The wardrobe was nice. I liked that. Me and mum chose it a couple of years ago, but the ones Will and Liam have are heaps better for organising things and I just love their computer workstations and homework desks. Um… I think I’d like something like they have actually. I’d like all the rest of my things of course and perhaps some of the pictures and stuff to remind me of Mum and everything,” I explained.
“Okay. So after Tuesday when we hopefully will know where we’re at with all this, we’ll go over and get everything that you want and we’ll need to start the necessary clearing out of your mother’s things too. Would you like Mrs Sutherland to come and help you with that? She did mention to us that she’d be glad to help when that needed to be done,” Paul said.
“Yes, if she could do my mother’s room I think I’d prefer that,” I replied.
“Clothes and any unwanted stuff to charity shops?” Rick suggested.
“Yes, I think so please. It might be useful to someone. I’d hate stuff just to be binned,” I said.
“We just have to hope all goes according to plan now. Your Grandfather’ll be setting off in the morning and staying next door with Will’s dad, as you know. We just have to wait now.” Paul said.
Paul started to prepare the Sunday meal and I carried on with my work at the kitchen table.
* * *
Jeremy Russell replaced the receiver after a long chat with Liam and turned to Michael sat alongside him on his sofa and said
“He’s doing fine. At least we can be thankful for that. Now, all we have to do is find somewhere new for you to live till your place gets repaired after the mess caused by that quake.”
“Yeah, the landlord said it could be as long as six months as every builder is at a premium right now. That’s if you can find one anyway,” Michael replied.
“I know. I’ve had to do the cleaning at the office myself. There’s just no one available. Lucky all that came down were the false ceilings with the light fittings. It won’t be too big a job to get those sorted and it can actually wait till the New Year. We can manage till then with temporary stuff. I’ve fixed the lights to ceiling hooks for now and then once the insurance has done a proper assessment we’ll get it all back to normal then.”
“Yes, work’s just fine. Just a shake up, no real damage. It’s my flat that’s suffered somewhat. Lets’ get online, seeing your connection works again and see if there’s anything out there to rent.”
We spent an hour checking property sites and made several calls and then armed with a list of two properties to go and view we left the flat and headed into town.
The first apartment was in a fantastic situation and was totally perfect in every way except for price. It was outside Michael’s range once we had totted up all the extras involved. So regrettably we moved on to the second one.
Smaller and not in as good a location. For a six month period it would be fine. So we made a decision and Michael took the apartment for a short term lease. He paid over a deposit and the first period of rent and was told that subject to reference checks being made with his current landlord, he’d have the keys on the Monday afternoon. Very pleased with our progress we both returned to my flat to eat and decide how to arrange the move.
“Do you actually want to go back to your old place after it gets fixed up?” I asked.
“No, not really. I mean it was okay in much the same way as the one we decided on today is all right for now, but neither is what I would describe as a permanent home,” he replied, then added “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that perhaps in the New Year if we still feel the same, then we might look for something to buy between us, is what I was thinking,” I replied smiling widely at Michael.
“Are you sure… I mean are we ready for that…? Um… Yes! I know I am,” Michael managed to reply in his obvious unpreparedness for what I had said.
“I’ve been thinking that way for a little while and knew that here’s just not big enough… We need a room each for our stuff and definitely a guest room and well you know a proper home… If you’ll have me, that is?” I asked him.
“Oh, goodness… well, I don’t know… I mean big decisions and all that… Yes, of course I will,” Michael replied.
“The Tap Room’s open this evening how about we go and eat there, have a few drinks and well just celebrate that decision?” I suggested.
“I think I can go along with that. Not too much to drink though I’ve got so much on a work tomorrow that I need a pretty clear head,” he replied.
“Me too, but we can have a couple of beers, or share a bottle of wine anyway with a meal I hope.”
“Oh yes, certainly that’ll be fine. Let’s call and make a reservation.”
I did that and we spent the rest of the afternoon going over possibilities and Christmas plans. I determined that I’d send an email to Liam the next day to let him know a little of mine and Michael’s future plans. We then about half an hour before our reservation headed off to town to celebrate.
* * *
Commander Barnes’s point of view…
I had come back from the tour of duty far from convinced that the plan that my help had been solicited in assisting with was not entirely a good idea. However, after talking at length to young Christopher Griffin and learning first hand, how he had worked hard, with his mother’s total support and full encouragement to win his fees scholarship to the Royal Grammar. I changed my uncertain view to a decidedly positive one in full support of his case with my old shipmate from early service days, CPO. Rory Griffin, retd.
I also harboured a few concerns for my two younger neighbours that they might be taking on too much with yet another ‘waif and stray’ to add to their burgeoning family. I’d had no qualms whatsoever in entrusting William, to them, after they had shown particular aptitude in looking after him during the family crisis that was my parents’ holiday accident resulting in my mother’s death and father’s major incapacity. It was more a case of ‘no-one else to turn to’, but as it happened, I could not have done better under any circumstances. They had risen to that challenge and had more than shown aptitude and ability to manage young teens. Adding a further young lad to the household with Liam’s arrival showed just more of their abilities. And a harmonious household it had become. I just wondered if their current plan was one beyond their capacity… until I met the lad in person. I then realised that he was recovering his poise and equilibrium extremely well after what was most certainly a shattering experience. I did not doubt that there was more grieving for him to do as he’d been so turned upside down by the quick succession of changes in his life, but was showing remarkable resilience… as in fact many teens can and do in the face of adversity. He also had a clear path forward. He passionately argued in favour of staying in his current location so he could follow the course he’d set with his mother’s full support and guidance. I was impressed by his determination to succeed and made a decision to do what I could to enable the plan to materialise.
I would, however, very much play a listening game in the first instance and see what could be gleaned as far as attitudes towards his grandson and the predicament old chiefy now found himself. Would he go for an easy way out or would he play the pedant, stick his heels in, and take charge of the boy regardless of his mother’s wishes.
On the following morning with Paul’s help I’d acquired the assistance of Mrs Watson, their lady cleaner to give my place a thorough going over after all the work I’d had completed in preparation for my Father’s arrival, which was now nowhere as near certain as had first appeared. He’d taken my mother’s death very hard indeed and was not making the progress to regaining his independence that I’d hoped for. So it might not be that he’d be joining us here at all, as matters looked right then. I had the guest room set up for my visitor’s arrival and all was prepared. I then went and did a bit of a food shop for myself as I had no intention of imposing on next door more than would be reasonable to spend time with William. I was most certainly looking forward to the Christmas feast as that looked like being a meal to remember and I’d always thoroughly enjoyed the top rate cooking that Paul seemed to produce with what appeared to be little effort, but I knew that in fact that was never the case. A lot of planning went into such occasions as well I knew from past occasions in my own home.
It was at a little before half past four that I set off into town to the railway station to await the arrival of the inter-city service from Glasgow Central. As I arrived on the station concourse I looked up at the arrivals display and saw that the 12.00 service from Glasgow Central was due in at 17:01 and was expected on time. I checked the station clock and saw I had a little less than ten minutes to wait. I made my way to the barrier area of the platform that the train was due in on and waited a little distance from the gates. At dead on the appointed time the train pulled in and disgorged its passengers onto the platform. A minute or so later I recognised an older, but still familiar figure walking briskly towards the gate with his ticket at the ready and a travel bag in his other hand. As soon as he was through I began to approach him. He stopped and looked briefly around him as he knew he was to be met and he caught sight of me and with an immediate sign of recognition approached me quickly.
“Chiefy,” I said, and stretched my hand to shake his.
“Sir.” He immediately began to salute and quickly realised he and I were not in uniform and offered his hand in return.
“Frank, these days… Rory, isn’t it?” I replied, as I shook his offered hand warmly. “You’re out of all the formality now,” I added.
“Old habits, sir… I mean Frank, and yes, it’s been over ten years now,” Rory Griffin replied.
“Yes, know what you mean… shall we have a jar and a chat before heading back to meet your grandson and his friends. He stays with my son, William, you know.”
“Yes, the lawyer chappie who’s been doing all the arranging said that he was fine there, and well, I let it be. Couldn’t come rushing down at once. I’ve commitments you see, and until the arrangements were settled there didn’t seem there was much I could do,” Rory Griffin explained as we headed out of the station and into the saloon lounge of the Station Hotel opposite.
“Pint of best?” I queried as I approached the bar.
“Yes, that’ll do fine… I’m not much of one for the drink since I left the service, y’know,” Rory said.
“Well, there’ll be a glass of something with dinner this evening. So if you’d rather not?”
“No… a pint’ll be fine, thank you kindly,” he replied.
I ordered and paid for the two pints of beer and carried them to a table where we made ourselves comfortable. I slid one of the pint glasses across the table to Chief Griffin and he took a welcome draught before setting it back on the beer mat and after a moment’s reflection he said.
“I am very, very glad to see you again sir, I’ve been at my wit’s end over all this business. I was a much younger man when I agreed to my daughter’s request that I take on responsibility for her lad, if anything happened to her, and well now it has, I’m not at all sure I can cope with it at all.”
“You’ll meet the boy soon and a very pleasant one you’ll find him too. I had a long chat with him yesterday morning. He’s pretty much recovered from his own injuries and has been back at school all of last week now. But inside, he’s still very much grieving his mother’s passing in that awful crash.”
“Do you know exactly what happened?” Rory asked. “I’ve had brief details, but not all the facts,” he explained.
“Oh, yes, from what I’ve been told, it’d appear that Marilyn took Chris to the theatre as a birthday treat. He was fourteen that very day. After the show they were waiting for the bus back when a car came round the bend too fast, lost control and careered into the waiting bus queue. Marilyn was directly hit and died in hospital from massive internal injuries as did the driver of the car. Chris, and a few others in that queue had superficial bruises and glass cuts, but a piece of the bus shelter frame had caught Chris’s arm and quite a serious laceration resulted. He was treated and stitched up in the hospital too, but no one had immediately realised that his mother was the one who’d not made it, until another neighbour, again with boys at the same school, and a service family too, who’s now a casualty sister in the A & E recognised your grandson, from his being friends with her youngest lad. She found out the details and then made arrangements for his care with friends. As I said, it’s where my son William lives when I’m away at sea. My next-door neighbours, in fact.”
Chief Griffin sat for a moment, taking in all that I’d explained to him as succinctly as I could and then said
“I’m very grateful to all these people for helping out when it was needed. I must thank them all properly.”
“There’ll be plenty of opportunity for that later and then tomorrow after the funeral over at the reception at the Red Lion. It’s been organised by Marilyn’s employers,” I explained.
“Yes, that’s all in the pages of bumpf that I tried to make sense of on the journey down. Not sure I understand why everyone seems so interested in doing all these things for us.”
“Oh, that’s the easy bit. Your daughter was a well liked and very valuable member of staff to the firm. Christopher’s also a pleasant and well liked boy. He’s made friends with the same set as my son runs with. They’ve all stood solidly by him since it all happened and are keen that the right outcome to enable Chris to pick up things again can be decided, as I’m sure that you are also?” I asked.
“Oh yes, though quite how, I just don’t know right now. I can’t have him up with me, house is too small… only got one bedroom cottage… you see.”
“Yes, that’s been mentioned by Adrian, who by the way is my lawyer as well as being your daughter’s former boss. So I do know all the people involved in this and tomorrow we have some thoughts about how to resolve the difficulties that have all fallen rather heavily on your plate.”
“I was rather hoping that you might be able to advise me,” Rory admitted.
“I’d be glad to help in any way I can. Time we made a move though, I think, or we’ll be missing out on a great meal. We’ll discuss all of this later when we know what the possibilities are.”
We both got up having finished our drinks and headed for the carpark and back to my home. Once there I showed Rory into the guest room and waited for him to finish settling in before taking him next door to meet everyone and eat.
* * *
We were all waiting about downstairs just before six having got the dining room ready for supper when the front door bell rang. I knew it had to be Commander Barnes bringing my Grandfather over for a meal and I looked up at Paul who said
“Go and answer the door and bring our guests through to the sitting room, please Chris.”
I nodded, got up and nervously went along the hallway to open the front door.
End of chapter 22