Moonlight Sonata; soccer; portal; elephant

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Six

Later came quite soon as Alistair announced he would be coming to rugby practice as well after lunch. Of course, he hadn’t got any rugby kit with him so he had to borrow bits from Jonathan. I was changing into my kit when he came into the room with Jonathan. Both had stripped off their ordinary clothes and I saw another nude boy. Actually, a nude young man as Alistair would be twenty in January. All I really noticed was he was much more hairy as Jonathan had flung him one of those pouch things across the bed. It must have been a tight fit as Alistair said a couple of very rude words and that he was going to suffer from crushed nuts wearing something designed for twelve-year-olds. Jonathan said it was new only last year and Alistair said he wasn’t surprised as Jonathan had little to show for his age. I didn’t think that was fair as Jonathan’s thing was quite the same size as Alistair’s. I piped up and said I hadn’t noticed any difference between them and the pouch must have shrunk in the wash. This set them off laughing again.

“Thanks Jamie,” said Jonathan, “I need a bit of a boost to my self-esteem. What with these two telling me to grow a bit more and Grandfather nagging me as well I feel a bit inadequate…”

“…Too true,” came a voice from the door. A third nude creature entered carrying a bundle of rugger kit. “He may be Sergeant BuzzFuzz but he ought to grow a few more inches…”

“…Where it really matters,” said Alistair and pointed at Jonathan’s midriff. He saw me staring and moved his finger up so it was pointing at the top of Jonathan’s head. Even I realised he had really pointed first at Jonathan’s thing as I had heard Stu say once he wanted his to grow as big as his brother’s. At least I had put two and two together. It was interesting though. Alistair was nearly twenty but although he had more hair his thing flopped down just about the same as Jonathan’s and Geoffrey’s. I suppose it couldn’t go on growing or it would end up touching the floor. I must say that to Jonathan when we’re alone in case Alistair got upset if his had stopped growing. Thinking about it they must stop because the two Sergeants who kept an eye on us at the pool in Athens wouldn’t have been able to wear those tight swimsuits otherwise. They were pretty bulgy in the front though and I’d heard one of the other boys say to Jonathan that Sergeant Packer certainly packed it in.

As I finished putting my kit on the others started with Alistair swatting Jonathan’s backside with his shirt when he bent down to pick up a sock which had slid under the bed. “Watch it, lad, you’re tempting fate,” he said and laughed.

“All the time,” said Geoffrey, “but that’s the sacred portal…”

“…Belt up!” Jonathan said as Alistair chortled.

“Yeah,” Alistair said, “The sun certainly shines forth as the Blessed Bard said. ‘As doth the blushing discontented sun from out the fiery portal of the East’. We had plenty of laughs over those lines.”

Jonathan stood up. “I don’t think Geoff meant that. And where’s that from? It sounds good.”

Richard the Second,” said Alistair, “Had to read it when we were doing Highers.”

“Was he the one who had the poker…?” Geoffrey started and stopped, looking at me gawping at the trio who were standing, bits of clothing in their hands and making no sense to me.

Alistair held a rugger shirt up. “No, that was Teddy Two and we won’t go into that.” He put it over his head and pulled it down.

The other two giggled and I was left wondering again. ‘Portal’. What was that? I’d finished putting my kit on so I went to the bookshelf and picked out the dictionary. I knew the three of them were grinning and watching me as I caught a glimpse of them in the wardrobe mirror.

“What are you looking for?” Alistair asked as he pulled up the shorts Jonathan had also lent him.

I would show them. If I asked they’d only say ‘later’. Silently I turned the pages. There it was. ‘A gate or doorway esp a great or magnificent one; any entrance’. I wasn’t any the wiser. Then it struck me. The older Brigstock had said something about Curtis-MacDonald after Mr Tallent who taught Hockey had praised him. Yes. He’d said ‘the sun shines out of his arsehole’. It made sense, now. Of course. Mr McWilliam had said we often used phrases which hid the real meaning.

I would show them. “I suppose that man meant the sun was shining out of his arsehole!”

Three quite shocked boys looked at me. Geoffrey turned and shut the door.

“Where did you learn that?” Jonathan asked, still with his rugger shirt in his hands, but he’d put his shorts on first over that pouch thing.

“Tell you later!” I said with emphasis and went over and put the dictionary back on the shelf.

Alistair burst into laughter. “Touché old mates! He’s certainly got us sussed!”

The other two were laughing now and Jonathan dropped the shirt and came over to me. Gosh, he was strong. He just lifted me up and held me tight to him. “Oh, Jamie, Jamie!,” he said, “You’re learning fast. I promise we’ll tell you as much as possible but you have to take us on trust. We’re older but not necessarily wiser and we know things but we have to be careful with things you might not understand. That’s why we say ‘later’.” He nuzzled my cheek. “You’re growing fast, too, and you’re getting too heavy to hold up like this.” The other two came over and put their arms round the pair of us as Jonathan let me down to the ground.

“I often wondered what it would be like to have a younger brother,” Alistair said. He smiled. “Inquisitive, I suppose. Yep. Young Jamie, I think we might have a few chats as well. I do know some things your brother may not.” He grinned. “I might tell you why his lot wears trews.”

“Yes,” I said, “I just get fed up with having to wait and I get in a whirl when I don’t understand.”

“You certainly deconstructed William Shakespeare very efficiently then.” He saw my wonderment. “That bit I quoted was by Shakespeare…” I nodded. I had watched a bit of Romeo and Juliet on the telly but got lost with the strange language though the sword fights were exciting. I didn’t care for the smooching as Mum had called it. Alistair went on. “…and what you said could be what old Will was saying but scholars might disagree. Sounds as if you’re destined for an academic life. I know Great-Aunt Cassie thinks you’re bright. Bit more than us plodders but Geoffrey’s got more than a plate of haggis between his ears.”

“Bollocks!” said Jonathan.

“And a fine pair of those, too!” said Alistair slapping a rather startled Geoffrey on his back.

“Thanks for that,” Geoffrey said quietly, “But we’d better hurry or we’ll never get to the Club.” That a bit louder.

There was a general scramble then and I had time to think about what I’d heard. Was I bright? I knew that meant clever. I didn’t know. I was just a boy at school. Then, was Geoffrey clever? I knew he’d won a Scholarship and was good at Maths and English and playing the pipes, as well as Games. And then Jonathan had said ‘bollocks’. I knew that was a rude word. But it was in the dictionary because I’d looked it up when I heard it the first time. Funny how dictionaries take you round in circles almost. Next I had to look up ‘testicles’ and that took me to ‘scrotum’ and that’s when it clicked. It all made sense ‘cause Jack Pringle had said his brother was a scrote and when Brigstock asked him what he meant he said his eldest brother said Oli’s brains were in his balls and so he was a scrote. Brigstock still looked puzzled so I said what I had read in the dictionary. And, true, Geoffrey’s were big, much bigger than mine and even hung down more than Jonathan’s or Alistair’s. I had been very observant! But, thank goodness they were all ready and Mum had said Alistair could drive us in her car.

I must say Jonathan said nothing while Alistair was driving. I thought he might be cheeky like he was with Mum but it was the first time Alistair had driven us and he was OK. We arrived dead on two o’clock and there were the five boys already kitted up and waiting. There were the original three, Luke, Sandy and Ian, plus Logan who had shown me how to switch points on their electric railway and now smiled at me, and standing behind them was Julian.

“Didn’t mind me coming?” Julian asked and I saw Alistair nudge Geoffrey. I wasn’t certain but Geoffrey did seem to go a bit red.

“All welcome,” said Jonathan. He looked at Logan. “I saw you at the piping. I can see you’re his brother.” He nodded at Luke. “And this is our cousin, Alistair, who did have a Scottish Boys’ Trial, but that was in Fencing.”

“Enough,” said Alistair, “I did play rugger a bit as well.”

“Come on, let’s get on the field,” said Geoffrey who was in charge again.

I was exhausted at the end of nearly two hours as it was getting quite dark when we picked up the balls and trudged back to the changing-room. No hot water, of course, so as the others pulled on tracksuits over their muddy selves we said our goodbyes and the four of us clambered into Mum’s car on the spread out towels.

“They’re grand kids,” said Alistair as he got into the driver’s seat and put his seat-belt on before turning the ignition. “That Logan’s a real sweetie.” Funny word to use, I thought. Covered in a good layer of mud having rolled in a couple of wet patches when he’d been tackled he might resemble a chocolate, that was a sweetie. “Julian’s a braw player. He’s certainly got the weight and stamina. Best of pals I could see, eh, Geoff? He’s got the hots!”

Ooh! I did notice Geoffrey’s ears went red as he was sitting in the passenger seat next to Alistair.

“Don’t embarrass the poor boy,” said Jonathan, leaning forward and poking Alistair’s shoulder as he put the car in gear. “You had a slight reputation for being seen without your épée in the company of Jolly Roger Clemence if I remember. Willy Hamilton said you were probably practising the Sabre Dance.”

“Behave! It’s true we were great friends and I still see him often in the bar as he’s reading French. Anyway it was only experimentation. He’s well away now with some cackling French hen. Names Deirdre of all things and weird with it.”

“Why French hen?” I asked wondering what chickens had to do with it and the only French hens I had heard about were in that long Christmas carol.

“She’s reading French, too,” said Alistair, “And girlfriends are known as birds. Did you know that?”

I shook my head, then realised that as we were moving he was watching the road and couldn’t see me.

“A slang word,” said Jonathan. “Girls are birds, chicks, fillies, dollies, tottie,…”

“…crumpet,”said Geoffrey from the front.

Alistair laughed. “But you don’t say that in their presence.”

“And what do girls call boys?” I asked.

“Haven’t a clue,” said Jonathan. “Do you know, Ally?”

“Never asked,” he said, “Probably Wally, short for wallet.”

“I thought a wally was an idiot,” I said. Brigstock had called his young brother ‘a wally’ after he’d done something stupid.

“Sums it up precisely. If you’re not careful they’ll spend your money and you’ll feel a right wally with probably nothing to show for it!” Alistair sounded quite peeved

“Happened to you?” Jonathan asked.

“Too true. Thought I was onto a good thing and all I got was the cold shoulder instead of a warm…” He stopped as we got to some traffic lights which were at red.

“Warm what?” asked Jonathan and I saw his chest was heaving.

“Heart?” asked Geoffrey and burst into laughter.

I supposed Geoffrey could be right but all three were laughing again. Huh! I expect it was something to do with ‘later’!

It was mostly quiet the rest of the way until Jonathan said he hoped there were crumpets for tea and Alistair said something about ‘nothing like a hot English muffin’ and the three were crowing with laughter as we arrived back home.

I didn’t wait. I scrambled out of the car and rushed in through the kitchen. Mrs Grantly was there and waved as I sped past. “Need to get to the shower first!” I said and was up the two flights of stairs and in the bathroom before I heard any noise from down below.

I was stripped off and soon under the hot water. It certainly eased any aches. My legs were a bit tired after all that activity. I washed carefully and let the water run over my curly hair flattening it so I wasn’t surprised when the shower curtain was pulled back a bit and a sharp voice asked if I was spending all day in there. It was Jonathan.

I turned the water off and pulled the curtain right back. If they were showing off all they had I didn’t mind. I knew I wasn’t as old as them and I had seen that Stu and Watson weren’t much bigger down there than me though they were a bit older. I supposed I would have to wait and see. That bloody word ‘later’ popped up in my head and I had used that rude word in my thoughts.

There they were. Three grinning older boys also stripping off their muddy kit. They were muddy, too. “Mum’s going to have a fit when she has this lot to wash,” I heard Jonathan say, “I’ll get the youngster to take it down. He’ll charm her.”

“What about my stuff?” I heard Geoffrey say.

“It’s not yours,” Jonathan said, “Remember I lent it to you, or did that bump on your bonce destroy your memory. Anyway your lot was done last time, all clean and sweet, eh? Remember that as well?”

Poor Geoffrey had made a dive for the ball near the posts and had cracked his head on the upright. He hadn’t made a fuss but I noticed he had a slight cut right in the middle of his forehead.

“Takes more to harm him,” said Alistair who had really muddy legs. He’d pulled his shorts off and the mud was quite high up his thighs. “Got a head like a coconut and he’s got a fringe on top like one.”

Yes, Geoffrey’s hair was also mud-caked and some was standing up in a tuft.

Jonathan turned to look at me as he had at last hopped around pulling his socks off. “Come on out of there, it’s our turn.”

I stepped out and picked up the fluffy towel I liked and began by rubbing my head with it. My curls were half dried and began to fluff out themselves.

“Come on, Shrimp, and stop making yourself more beautiful and anyway you’re dripping on the floor.” Jonathan was trying to get past me but I had moved the wrong way.

“Leave the boy alone,” said Alistair, “I had curls once like that. Had them cut off soon after I went up to Main School, though.” He winked at me. “Keep ‘em as long as you can.” He laughed. “Beat you to it, Jonno!” He was completely stripped off and side-stepped me and got into the shower.

“Crafty bugger!” my brother said very rudely. “Trust a lawyer to get in first.”

I was still in his way because Geoffrey went the other side and slipped into the cubicle with Alistair.

Jonathan was hopping now. Not getting his socks off but hopping mad. “Watch it, Geoffrey, don’t take his offer to soap you!”

I had turned towards the shower as I was busily drying the rest of me. Geoffrey’s head popped through the gap in the curtain. “You never said no when I offered!”

Their cackling, like French hens I supposed, even made Jonathan laugh. “Only room for two in there and that’s a tight squeeze.”

More laughter from behind the curtain. “That’s a tight squeeze,” Alistair called out and Geoffrey hooted. “I like that!” Alistair shouted out even louder, “I need a bit more soap on my back now! Oooh, that’s nice!”

I looked at Jonathan. He tossed his head. “Boys will be boys even if they’re nearly twenty.”

After another couple of minutes of laughter and splashing the curtain was pulled back and two dripping monsters got out. Wow. I’d seen Geoffrey with a hard thing but here was another. Alistair’s was a bit bigger than Geoffrey’s but I didn’t have much chance to stare as they grabbed the towels Jonathan was holding out. “Now behave,” he instructed them as he got into the shower. “You bastards!” he yelled, “The water’s only just warm!”

“Language, cousin dear,” said Alistair who was towelling his back vigorously, “Take no notice, Jamie, the poor boy thinks he needs it hot or he’ll be all shrivelled up more than usual.”

“You wait, I’ll get you, Alistair Drummond!” Jonathan’s voice had an edge to it and was almost drowned by the hissing of the water.

“Any time, duckie! As usual?” Alistair had the big towel round him now like a toga and did a little dance. Geoffrey was chuckling and copied Alistair.

I heard the water being turned off and the curtain slid along again. There was a quick nod from Alistair to Geoffrey and as Jonathan stepped rather gingerly from the shower tray in case he slipped on the wet floor so the pair of them flung a towel over his head and he was rolled up on the floor trying to kick his way out of their grasp. I saw Alistair’s hand go up under the towel and the kicking stopped. A muffled, plaintive voice came from the folds of the towel. “Don’t, please. Leave go, please. I won’t do anything, I promise.”

“Promise?” said Alistair. He winked at me again. “Boys don’t like their precious possessions squeezed. Very vulnerable.”

I guessed he was holding on to Jonathan’s balls. This was the second time such a thing had happened in a couple of days. I remembered Jack Pringle had yelped when that tennis ball hit him there and now Alistair had Jonathan in his grasp. I smiled to myself. Something to tease Jonathan about when he was being all brave and telling me what to do. Mustn’t say it when any grownups or my sisters were around, though.

“Promise,” the muffled voice said and Alistair must have let go as Jonathan, rather red-faced, wriggled out of the towel. “Not fair,” he said, “And you’re teaching him unfair tactics.”

“All’s fair in love and war,” said Alistair, “And I love you really.”

“Seems like it,” said Geoffrey, “Given what…”

Jonathan was waving his hands about. “Shut it, please, nuff’s enough. Noddy Big Ears might open his mouth…”

I assumed he meant me. Anyway, I was having a good look at Jonathan. His thing was quite droopy and didn’t even look as big as I’d seen it before. I’d better not say anything about that in case he got annoyed. Again I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I must have just been staring as the three had now finished drying themselves and I noted that Geoffrey’s and Alistair’s things weren’t hard any more as they left the bathroom. Jonathan grinned at me. “You can hang the towels up to dry and then get dressed.” He smiled. “Take all the mucky kit down and give it to Mrs Grantly and we’ll see you downstairs for tea.”

I thought it best not to say “Why me?” because I had more things to think about and I might need answers. Anyway he had at least smiled when he said about the mucky kit.

They must have been talking more as I was dressed and had reached the kitchen when they started to gallop all the way down from the top floor. “A herd of elephants,” Mrs Grantly said as I entered the kitchen. “Did you know, Jamie, the elephant is the only animal that can’t jump? And there’s three of them jumping down the stairs!” She saw the rather large bundle I was holding and trying not to let any socks drop out. “I suppose they got you to bring it down….” She took the bundle from me as the three appeared at the doorway. They had a surprise. She threw the bundle up in the air and shirts, shorts, socks and pouch things covered them. “Sorry about that, but pick all that lot up and put all in the washer… ….carefully!” She held a hand up and pointed a finger at Jonathan. “You know how it works. Soap powder, then a hot wash. We won’t bother if some of the colour runs, eh?” Jonathan nodded. He’d told me before that you didn’t argue with Mrs Grantly. “And I suppose you’re all hungry?” she added.

“Mrs Grantly! Why ask?” Alistair said and grabbed both her hands and did a little dance with her. “You know your cooking is tops and none of us has never said no.” He held her hands up. “Scones and strawberry jam with a bit of cream?”

She laughed as he let go. “You’re as bad as your father was with Cook then. And I learnt how to make scones from her.”

“Tradition, that’s the key,” Alistair said and bent down and gave Mrs Grantly a peck on the cheek. “And that’s one for Dad. He says he’ll never forget the girl next door.”

I think Mrs Grantly blushed then but I was really more interested in the plate piled with scones on the kitchen table. I scuttled round and moved the plate nearer me. “Please, may I?”

There was a concerted rush but I managed to get one first and had it sliced in two, buttered and with jam but no cream before the other gannets managed to elbow each other out of the way. In fact, Jonathan was last but he grinned as he picked up his scone. “Trust you, Jamie, always one in front.”

“Aye,” said Mrs Grantly, “And I wager he’ll be in front of all of you if you don’t buckle down to a bit of hard work.” She shook a finger at all three lined up across the table from her. “Once Christmas is over…” She looked at Jonathan. “You can help Geoffrey with History and he can help you with your Mathematics. My son Andrew says he has promise.” She looked at Alistair. “And you can catch up with an essay or two.”

“How did you know?” he breathed.

“A good guess, my lad, I’ve had two sons who needed a prod at times.” She smiled. “Now, get out of the kitchen. You can lay the table between you. Eleven of us tonight. I’ll be there to keep an eye on you and Geoffrey is invited, too!”

We filed out of the kitchen as soon as the scones disappeared down our gullets, as Jonathan said as we got to the dining room.

“Do you need a prod?” Jonathan then said to Alistair and I saw him wink at Geoffrey.

“On yer bike, laddie,” Alistair said as he opened the sideboard cupboard door. “You couldn’t prod the skin off a rice pudding with that minuscule object.”

Jonathan just laughed. “You should know better than that!”

What on earth did he mean?

Monday Evening

Dinner that night was stupendous. That’s what Jonathan called it. A new word for me. I like new words, even the ones I’m not supposed to repeat! Even after the scones - I managed to scrounge another one from the tin - I was starving. Mrs Grantly had stayed as she had brought in a good-sized joint of beef which she had roasted. So there were roast tatties and Yorkshire puds and a good thick gravy. All to welcome Dad home and as we sat Grandfather said we should toast the two promotions. Jonathan to Sergeant and Dad to Lieutenant-Colonel. Even I was allowed a little of the red wine but I thought it a bit bitter although all the rest downed more than one glass, even Geoffrey and my sisters. Geoffrey did get a bit red himself when Grandfather proposed a toast to him as he had been chosen to pipe in the turkey or whatever at the Hogmanay Ball at the Conservative Club. Everyone was nodding as I knew we were all going and Luke had said their family was going as well.

There was lots of chat. Dad, of course, wanted to know all the news and even Jonathan told him lots about the school and moaned that he had this boy Prothero in his squad next term.

Dad laughed. “That’ll give you more experience of man management. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to deal with stroppy sprogs, especially squad corporals who thought they were God’s gift to Her Majesty. Firm but fair. Don’t antagonise and don’t be antagonised.”

That was interesting. I understood what Dad was saying as I knew a sprog was someone new and Jonathan was nodding. Alistair was grinning.

“Too true,” he said, “I must admit I upset a couple of the tutors last year but I did apologise and things have been better since. They must have thought of me as an unruly sprog.” Grandfather did laugh at that. Alistair turned to my brother. “And remember, Jonno, you might get a few CDs from him. His old man’s all the rage at the moment.”

Great-Aunt Cassie wanted to know what he meant so we heard a bit about Prothero’s father’s antics especially when he ‘did a gig’ at the Aberdeen University Students’ Ball. I was learning lots as my sisters then said he was much too old and they preferred something called a ‘boy band’. I’d never heard of them but Caroline said they were all rather sweet and all her friends adored them. “And you do, too,” Jacky said and Caroline blushed.

“You’re out of the running now, Geoff my boy,” Jonathan said across the table. “Better give up the pipes and start wailing!”

Poor Geoffrey blushed even more then. He shook his head . “I can’t sing and I like proper music.”

“You call pipe music proper music?” said Alistair, then looked at Grandfather who didn’t look pleased. “I mean, it’s good….” He tailed off.

Geoffrey let him off the hook, as Jonathan said later. “I think pipe music is great but I like orchestras as well. I want to study music anyway.”

“And so you shall,” said Grandfather who did look as if he was ready to laugh.

“I thought you wanted to do maths?” Jonathan said. “Mrs Grantly says you’re good at it. Isn’t that so?” He looked at Mrs Grantly who was smiling and nodded but didn’t say anything. I knew her son was his maths teacher.

“I do like maths but I like music as well. I’m not sure what I want to do after Highers.”

“You play the piano very well,” said Jacky.

Caroline was nodding. “I liked that Beethoven piece you were practising when we were at yours on Saturday.”

Geoffrey began to blush again. “I didn’t know you were listening. How did you know it was Beethoven?”

Caroline laughed. “Everyone knows the Moonlight Sonata.” She stopped. “Actually, Izzy told us what it was.”

I knew Izzy, or Isabel as he was properly called. She was one of his sisters and did Highland dancing and I’d seen her and three other girls twirling about at the Highland Games last year . Mum said they were good and they all got rosettes as they came second in the competition for 10 to 14-year-olds. Jonathan had said they were the same rosettes that the prize Aberdeen Angus heifers received and they were only one-year-old and he got a stern look from Mum. I had noticed he had emphasised the word ‘heifers’ which I knew meant young cows. But why had he done that?

For once Grandfather didn’t say only Scottish things were good. He said if Geoffrey practised hard he might get to the Royal College of Music in London. I knew why he said that as Grandma had been a student there and had taught many pupils until she became ill. Her grand piano was tucked in the corner of the drawing-room and I had never heard anyone play it. I had tried to lift the keyboard lid but it was kept locked. If Geoffrey could play well I wondered if he might be allowed to play it? I had better not say anything but would ask Mum when I was alone with her.

Great-Aunt Cassie was smiling at Geoffrey. I knew she had a soft spot for him as his father had studied at Cambridge and had been a student at her College. I think he was a teacher at Edinburgh University now. “You could read for a music degree at Cambridge,” she said to him. “We have some fine choirs in the Colleges.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I could sing well enough to be a choral scholar,” he said. I wondered what that meant. “Dad took me to an Evensong last time we went down and the singing was so good.”

Grandfather was nodding. “We shall have to listen to the Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s tomorrow on Christmas Eve.” Grandfather was himself again. “I will say the English do a braw job with such things. Not much else but I give them that.”

Mum was trying not to laugh and I guessed it was because Grandfather was teasing his sister. Great-Aunt Cassie was very proud of being at Cambridge. That was something else I must ask. Mrs Grantly’s son Andrew was called Doctor and Great-Aunt Cassie was a Doctor as well. But I knew they didn’t have patients like our Doctor Muirhead at the surgery. Were there different sorts of Doctors? Another question!

Dad was grinning. “Pops, you have to remember we are all one country. Where would our rugger be without the Lions? “ Dad and Mum always called Grandfather ‘Pops’ and he didn’t mind.

Grandfather held up a finger. “And where were you when Scotland won the International and the Grand Slam last year?”

Dad held up his hands as if in surrender. “Sorry, but I had other things on my plate.”

Alistair butted in. “I saw Aberdeen win the Scottish FA Cup last year. Good game that!”

Grandfather put on a stern face. “Are ye a renegade?” And then he smiled. “I watched it on television and I do agree!” FA Cup? I realised that must be the other kind of football, soccer. Jack Pringle said only cissy boys played that when we had a kick about with a round ball. One of the older boys said his father told him Rugby Football was a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen and Soccer was a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans. We had to stop as we all wanted to know what he meant. He had shrugged his shoulders and said he just repeated what his father said. We went back to kicking the ball and not picking it up like we did in Rugger. Another question for Jonathan and Alistair!

I was very tired when dinner finished and felt very proud I had been allowed to stay up so late. Mum had nodded at me as we finished Mrs Grantly’s delicious apple crumble with all those plump raisins in it. I knew the others would have cheese and I saw the bottle of port on the sideboard and two of those funny-shaped liqueur bottles that Mum had brought back from Spain sometime. I slid off my seat and asked if I might be excused. Mum had taught me to say that as it was polite. Jonathan stood as well as he was the other side of Jacky who was next to me.

“Excuse me, please,” he said, “I’ll go with Jamie.” He held up a hand. “I’ll be back!”

There was a laugh from my sisters as well as Alistair and Geoffrey. I looked round to see Grandfather looking puzzled. My father was grinning and Mum was giggling. What was all this?

“It’s a film, Pops,” my father said. “It’s the Terminator. That big Austrian body-builder says it before he trashes a Police Station.”

Grandfather nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard of it. No time for the cinema now. Too busy.”

Before I could listen to more Jonathan nudged me in the back. “Come on, Jamie, before Dad goes through the whole film script. I think it’s his favourite film.”

“Why’s that? What’s it about?” I asked as we reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Two questions,” he said as he nudged me again. “I need a whizz bad so answers will have to wait!”

He rushed past me taking the stairs two at a time. I was too full to go up quickly. It wasn’t only a whizz he needed as I heard a loud fart just before he went into the loo at the top of the first flight. I climbed up to the next floor where our bedrooms were and went into the bathroom there and hurried over to the lav in the corner. I needed a whizz, too.

I was out of there, having remembered to wash my hands, and was in my room undressed and with my pyjamas on before Jonathan appeared. He was sighing. “Just got there in time,” he said. “Must have eaten something off ‘cause I’ve got a touch of the runs.” He screwed his face up. “Don’t want that for Christmas. I’d better warn Alistair and Geoff to keep away.” He let out another sigh. “I think I’d better have a sleeping-bag in the bathroom so I’m near….” He didn’t continue as he rushed off into the bathroom. I couldn’t do anything so got into bed. I had switched off the main light but had kept the small lamp on my bedside table on. I waited and hoped Jonathan was alright. I wondered if I should go downstairs and tell Mum? No need. Jonathan appeared at the doorway. “I found some of that bellyache mixture in the bathroom cabinet. Took a double dose so that should settle things.” He gave a laugh. “Shan’t give you a goodnight kiss as we can’t have you missing out on the turkey.”

“I hope you’re better tomorrow,” I said. Two of the boys in the class above had been in the sick room for four days when they had the squits after eating something out-of-date and Matron had gone round all our lockers to check we weren’t storing time-bombs for stomach-ache she said.She had said it was most important we always washed our hands after going to the lav and Pete had said that was most important, too.

Jonathan waved to me from the door. “Thanks, I hope so. That stuff should put a stop to it. I’ll close the door and you turn your light off. Night night!”

I waited until he had closed the door and did as he said….

Tuesday: Christmas Eve.

…I was fast asleep but woke quite suddenly when my bedroom door opened. It was morning and it was Alistair who poked his head in.

“Jonno not in with you?” he asked. He must have seen I was in bed alone. “Where’s he got to? He went off upstairs again before we all finished and came up. He wasn’t in our bed so I thought he was in with you.” He laughed. “Just tripped over his trousers in the bathroom, but where’s Laddo?”

I hadn’t heard Jonathan called that. Must remember that one. “He wasn’t well,” I said. “He had to go to the lav quickly and took some of that mixture Mum got us in case.” He knew what I meant as he grinned and came into the room.

“Picked up a bug, eh? Amount he eats I’m not surprised.” He stopped and grimaced. “I bet it was that sausage roll I bought on the station in Aberdeen and should have chucked out. It was on the dressing-table and he said he was hungry yesterday afternoon. It was over a week old! So where do I look for him?”

“He said he might take his sleeping-bag into the bathroom.” Alistair shook his head. “He might be in the lav along the corridor,” I explained. This was one we rarely used as it was next to what Mum called the junk room under the eaves. It was cold and draughty and that room had been a maid’s bedroom in the old days so Mum had said.

“I’ll try there,” he said and disappeared.

I wondered what time it was and looked at the clock on the wall. Half past seven. I picked up Mr Lion as he had slipped down into the bed and put him up on my pillow. I needed a whizz badly so got out of bed and didn’t bother putting my slippers on and went into the bathroom and saw that Jonathan’s trousers were draped over the bath. I needn’t get up yet as Mum had said breakfast wouldn’t be until nine o’clock but I wondered if Jonathan was alright. I had just got back into bed when Alistair came back. He was grinning.

“He’s OK,” he announced, “No more probs he said but thought it better to be near the bog.” I hoped Mum wouldn’t hear him say that word as I’d heard her tell Jonathan off about that as well. All these words we weren’t supposed to use. “I think I’ll go down and make myself a coffee. No one else seems to be around and dear Geoffrey’s still snoring his head off. Want something to drink?”

I shook my head. “No thanks. I’ll wait until I get up.”

He waved again and shut the door as he went off. I was wide awake and looked for my book. I would read a bit more then get up. I read a bit but must have been drowsy and dropped off as next thing I knew was a huffing and puffing Jonathan who lumped down on the side of the bed. I saw he was wearing a tatty old dressing-gown. It must have been quite a bit later as it was now getting much lighter in the room.

“Sorry if I woke you,” he said and patted the pillow. “I’m as stiff as a board sleeping on the floor. This pillow is nice and soft.” I moved a bit away as I had slept in the middle of the bed. “I think I’m cured but I won’t get too near. I need a bit more sleep.”

My, he was gently snoring withing a minute or two. I was stuck. I couldn’t get up as I would have woken him. I didn’t want to read any more. Then the great lump turned and I had to move over more or I would have been squashed. As he turned so the dressing-gown gaped open and I saw he just had a tee-shirt on, no underpants. I stared because his thing was in full view. It was strange because as he snored away so it went all stiff like I’d seen it before and then gradually flopped down again. I giggled to myself as that happened. Then it did the same again. Up, stiff and then down and floppy. I was still watching when he grunted and turned over again and all I had then was a view of his back with the dressing-gown pulled tight across his shoulders.

I must have dropped off once more myself as the next thing was being shaken by Alistair. “Two Sleeping Beauties! Come on, breakfast is in fifteen minutes!” He got no further as Jonathan grabbed him and I was squashed with Jonathan kneeling astride him with Alistair’s head on my legs.

I looked up and, of course, the dressing-gown was gaping open again. Alistair was laughing. “I don’t think that little prong would have frightened old Mrs McIver.” There was a gasp from Alistair as Jonathan bent down right over his face. Luckily he didn’t press down or my legs would have been crushed even more. Jonathan straightened up and Alistair was laughing more. “Lucky you moved up or you’d have been complaining about teeth marks like Croc did!”

“Shut up!” was Jonathan’s response as he put a hand down and held Alistair’s nose. He dipped down again and his floppy thing hit Alistair on the chin. Alistair pursed his lips but as Jonathan stayed in that position Alistair started to go red in the face. Jonathan saw me looking up at him. He winked and let go of Alistair’s nose as he hopped off him and the bed.

“Nearly had you then, eh?” Jonathan said, “A good sausage for a starter before breakfast.”

“More like a chipolata!” Alistair said then looked at me. He wrinkled his nose. “Boys’ games,” he said then grinned.

I didn’t say I’d never played games like that though that big boy MacInnes had said to another one in the top class at lunch one day that if he didn’t stop moaning he would stick his prick in his ear. That was another word I had learned and wondered why that would stop anyone moaning. All the big boys on that table laughed and one said it was small enough to fit neatly. One of the Masters rapped on his table then and told everyone to keep quiet and get on with eating. Oh, yes, chipolatas were small sausages!