Christmas tree; Dante; windy day; whisky glass

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Seven

I managed to get out of bed and left the pair giggling together as I went to the bathroom. I wasn’t dirty but thought I had better have a shower. All was quiet and I liked being under the hot water but knew I mustn’t stay too long or I would be accused of draining the tank. Of course, that was something else Jonathan said when he was wanting to do a pee. He would whisper ‘Just going to drain the tank!’. All these sayings!

There was something else I had heard and was trying to remember. Yes! When Jonathan was sitting almost on Alistair’s face Alistair had said something about his prong wouldn’t have frightened old Mrs McIver. I knew prong meant Jonathan’s thing but who was Mrs McIver? The big hall at Big School I knew was called the McIver Room. Mr McWilliam had said it was named after one of the old Headmasters, or Rectors, as they were called. We had assembled there for the Commemoration Day speeches and we youngsters from the Prep School had seats on the side and were told not to fidget. So was Mrs McIver someone who had been at the School? Perhaps as the Rector’s wife, like Mrs McWilliam was our teacher’s wife? Another question to ask. I must store them all up.

That shower was good. I had pinched some more of Jonathan’s shower gel and had made quite a lather which had all flushed away so I wouldn’t confess. I remember he had very nastily thrown some cold water in one day last year when I was enjoying the hot water so having some more of his gel made up for that.

I had dried and slipped my pyjama bottoms on again before Alistair and Jonathan came into the bathroom. “No Geoffrey?” Alistair asked. He turned to Jonathan. “Geoffrey needs a shower, too, don’t you think?” I thought I had better keep out of the way and went into the bedroom and shut the door. Not a moment too soon. I heard a great shout and a scuffle and much laughter from Alistair and Jonathan. I hoped Mum didn’t hear Geoffrey call out “You fucking twats!” but whatever happened then was in silence. They must have been having a shower themselves.

This was not for long as I was standing by the side of the bed, now fully dressed, when three, dripping with water, hobble-de-hoys came bursting into the room. They were all quite naked and Geoffrey was trying to hit both Jonathan and Alistair with a soggy hand towel. They all ended up in a heap on my bed spreading dampness everywhere. Geoffrey had flung the hand towel over to near me as the others grappled with him. I thought I would get my own back for them making my coverlet wet. I picked up the soggy article and gave each of them several whacks with it which set them laughing and not at all contrite. “You’d better get out quick, Jamie,” Jonathan spluttered as I caught him one on the shoulder, “Or we’ll stuff that down your trousers!”

I did just that and as I closed the door the three of them were laughing and clutching each other and I saw Jonathan was holding on to Geoffrey’s thing!

I went downstairs to the kitchen where Mrs Grantly and Mum were getting breakfast ready. “We heard all the noise, enough to waken the dead,” Mum said, “Not you, I hope?”

I just shook my head and saw Mrs Grantly grinning. “You had better start. They can have their breakfast as soon as they come down. Porage for them! Your sisters won’t be down for ages and I doubt if they’ll want to eat much. Too keen on keeping their hour-glass figures.”

This made Mum laugh. “I remember Nessie and me. We’d have all that stodge at school then more or less starve here especially when what’s-his-name was visiting.”

“I know, your poor mother used to despair over the pair of you,” Mrs Grantly said as she poured some cereals into a bowl for me.

“Who’s what’s-his-name?” I asked as Mrs Grantly added milk and a sliced banana to the bowl.

Mum laughed. “Someone a long time before your father!”

I suppose she meant a boyfriend.

Mrs Grantly gave me the bowl and pointed to the table in the breakfast room. I went over and sat and picked up a spoon and started eating.

“Which one was that?” Mrs Grantly asked and as I was looking at her she gave me a wink. “As far as I remember there was a procession of young warriors from the time you and Vanessa were in the Sixth Form until after you left the University and the remnants of the Drummond clan grabbed you both.”

Mum laughed again. “Too true! Too many to remember but I think we picked the right ones in the end.” She looked through the door at me. “Aren’t you glad of that?”

I nodded. That was strange. If Mum had picked someone else would I be here? I was a Drummond. Could I have been someone else? That was a difficult thing for me to think about. Should I ask Jonathan or Alistair? Oh, if Mum and Auntie Nessie had married other people would that mean Jonathan and the twins and Alistair wouldn’t be here? I thought it best to get on with my breakfast! I’d had a few spoonfuls when Dad appeared. He came over and gave me a hug and the three adults chatted while I continued eating and thinking. Dad then joined me but he had a bowl of porage. He clicked his tongue at me and we sat and ate.

There was then the usual rumble and clatter as Jonathan, Alistair and Geoffrey came bundling down the back stairs. As they entered the kitchen they saw Dad was in the breakfast room and were immediately quiet. All three were in sweatpants and tops. I watched as he looked up at them standing in a row by the kitchen door. He didn’t smile but I saw his face muscles twitch.

“The usual herd, eh?” he said and waved to Mrs Grantly. She held up her porage ladle. “Come and sit down there are enough seats,” Dad called out and beckoned them in and the three of them filed into the breakfast room. “Good morning, Geoffrey, did you sleep well?” Geoffrey mumbled something. “What’s going on?” Dad asked, “No proper greetings either from you or from my son and nephew?”

“Just thought we might get told off for noise,” Jonathan said.

Dad waved his spoon at them. “Too much energy. A good run after breakfast is the solution for that.”

There was no moan from any of them. They just nodded at each other. I hunched down as I didn’t want to have to run as well. They were all much bigger than me. I knew if Jonathan wanted to be in the Marines like Dad he would have to be very fit. Anyway there was little conversation after that as breakfast had to be eaten.

Dad had finished first and excused himself and went off as he said he had paperwork to do even on Christmas Eve. I knew the others could not say anything as he left the room as Mum and Mrs Grantly were in the kitchen and would hear anything said. Alistair was last to finish as Jonathan had only had porage and a piece of toast - because of his upset stomach I

thought - and Geoffrey had only one sausage with his fried egg.

“Right,” said Alistair having finished his second sausage, “We’ll get changed and tackle the streets. No snow last night so it should be quite clear.” He gave Jonathan a thump on his upper arm. “You must have enough running kit for Geoffrey and me as I never brought any with me and he’s your size.”

“Bigger where it counts!” Geoffrey said quietly. Jonathan sneered at him across the table and Alistair laughed.

“OK, OK,” Jonathan said, “We’d better get going or I’ll be in the doghouse as usual.”

They hadn’t expected me to go running with them so I just watched as they left the room and, for once, went quietly up the stairs. Mrs Grantly came into the room.

“Must say they are obedient. And what are you going to do for the next hour?” she asked.

I supposed I could read my book but from Mrs Grantly’s grin I knew she had other ideas.

“Your mother and I are putting up the Christmas tree. All the men of the house are unavailable except you, so you can be in charge. There’s a tree in the garage and the boxes of decorations and the lights are in the hallway cupboard. So, it’s off to work we go.”

Oh, I wasn’t usually allowed to touch any of those things.

“What about Caroline and Jacky?” I asked.

Mrs Grantly shook her head. “It’s now or never!” She waved a finger in the direction of the hallway door. “You collect the boxes, they’re not heavy and they’re all labelled. Line them up in the drawing-room and we’ll bring in the tree.” I heard Mum laugh in the kitchen. Mrs Grantly was in charge.

It was a nice tree and wasn’t too big. Mrs Grantly and Mum set it up in a bucket of sand to keep it steady. I found a stool and used that to get me high enough to hang the baubles and fancy decorations quite easily as they all hooked over the branches. Mum said she would wind the strings of fairy lights around and my last job was to place the Christmas doll on the topmost spike of fir at the end. I was then allowed to switch on the lights which all came on. I remembered last year there was an argument because one string didn’t light but Jonathan had found two of the bulbs weren’t screwed in properly.

We stood back and admired what we had done. It looked very pretty and sparkly. I wondered then about presents. I hadn’t bought any. Mum had said she knew what everyone wanted or needed and there would be a present each from me including for Grandfather, Great-Aunt Cassie, Auntie Vanessa and Uncle Hamish. All the presents would be put round this afternoon. No peeking or poking!

While we had been busy with the tree so my sisters had at last appeared. All they wanted for breakfast was juice and some cereals. Of course, Jonathan and the other two arrived back from their run as well and all three were red-faced and panting. All Mum said was ‘Upstairs! Showers!” and we had quite finished before they came downstairs again.

“Looks lovely, Mum,” Jonathan said as he went to stand in front of the tree. “Where’s the pressies? Can’t see any for me!”

Silly boy. There weren’t any so far. He was winding Mum up as usual.

“Nothing for you unless you behave,” Mum said. “Anyway, as you’re not too worn out you three can take Jamie with you to collect the order I put in at MacEwen’s for the fruit and then call in at Grandma’s to carry anything back she might have.”

Jonathan jumped up and down. “Pressies!” He wasn’t quick enough to evade Mum’s slap to his backside. “Ouch! Where’s my lawyer? Child abuse!”

Before he got another slap there was a shout from the hallway. “Sergeant Drummond!” It was Dad.

Jonathan snapped smartly to attention. “Sir!”

Dad appeared at the door. He was carrying three thick brown envelopes and nodded at Mum. I could see he was trying not to grin.

“Sergeant Drummond, before I have you demoted and placed on twenty-four hour latrine duty you and your guard squad can deliver these to the address shown. You can then deal with the Colonel-in-Chief’s orders and if all tasks are completed satisfactorily your rank may be restored.”

“Sir! Understood! Rank restored and no latrine duty, Sir?”

Alistair and Geoffrey were giggling and I couldn’t resist it. “Sprog squad sergeant, Sir?” I asked.

Dad was laughing outright then. “You’re quite right, Jamie, you are learning fast!”

My sisters said they had some last-minute shopping to do so wouldn’t trail along with us. I knew Jonathan would usually say something sarcastic but he kept quiet. I liked the phrase ‘latrine duty’ and though that would kept him from saying anything to razz my sisters up.

It was arranged that the envelopes would be delivered first, to an office in Princes Street, then we would walk back doing any shopping we wanted before going to MacEwen’s and Grandma Drummond’s. Lunch would be at one thirty, don’t be late!

Geoffrey said he would come with us but would leave us on the way back to go home and prepare for Christmas Day. Just as we were ready to depart, all muffled up against the cold, both Mum and Mrs Grantly gave Geoffrey a carrier bag and I guessed they contained presents for him and his sisters. Dad also handed Jonathan a ten-pound note. For sustenance, he said.

All went well. I liked being with the three of them. They didn’t treat me like a little kid, but I didn’t ask any of the questions I wanted answered. Jonathan and Alistair walked together in front and I walked beside Geoffrey. He said he hoped I would have a good Christmas and anyway we would all meet up again for the Hogmanay celebrations but he didn’t think we would have anymore rugger practice before then as snow was forecast. We couldn’t stare too much at all the shop decorations as Jonathan had the envelopes to deliver.

The office was in an old building and only Jonathan went in further than the entrance hall which was rather dark and gloomy. He had to pass through a turnstile and a commissionaire, as Alistair called him, directed him to a door. He knocked and a young man in a smart suit greeted him and took the envelopes from him. The door closed and Jonathan shrugged his shoulders as he came back to the turnstile. The commissionaire said something to him which made him grin and he joined us. I was shivering as I think it seemed colder in there than outside.

“What was all that?” Alistair asked Jonathan.

“I don’t know,” Jonathan said, “But I’m sure I’ve seen the man I gave the envelopes to before. I think he was one of the officers at the parade I was at earlier in the year.”

“All hush-hush, I expect,” Alistair said.

Jonathan shrugged his shoulders again. “I expect so, and that chap in the fancy uniform said abandon all hope all ye that enter here. I knew that as Mr James quotes that when we have another nasty bit of maths to do.”

Geoffrey laughed. “Just right for you. It’s what Dante says is written over the gates of hell!

Jonathan sniffed. “Trust you to know that, brainbox! Maths is hell most of the time! Must say Tuddy helps a lot. He’s not so dim as some think.”

“Helps a lot, eh?” Alistair asked. “Great pal isn’t he?”

“Yeah, we’ll probably share when we move up to the Sixth after the summer vac.”

“What’s that?” Geoffrey asked, “You’ll be sharing. I thought you did now.”

I heard a bit more of what happened in Big School. I knew from what Jonathan had said he shared a room with six others. I learned that if he was accepted for the Sixth Form then he would move up to the top floor of the House and share with just one other as the rooms there were just for pairs. He was sure his roommate would be Tuddenham. Alistair slapped him on the back. “Best of pals, eh?”

Jonathan looked down at me then nodded. I don’t know what Alistair did then but he made a fist and moved it up and down. “Enough of that!” Jonathan said and nodded down at me again.

Alistair laughed. “Never enough!”

I was glad when we found a café which didn’t seem too crowded. I was hearing and seeing more things I didn’t understand and though I was well-wrapped up there was a chilly wind blowing. Anyway I had my usual Cola and a scone and the others had coffee and a large sandwich. Alistair stumped up for the rest as it all came to more than ten pounds as they needed a second coffee. So Alistair wasn’t so mean as he had been on holiday. He did say then he was short of the readies when he was on holiday so Jonathan said he was forgiven for being a skinflint as well. I had three pounds in my pocket and when we came out from the café I saw a sweetshop and bought a bar of chocolate for each of them and used up nearly all of my money. I said that was for being kind to me. Geoffrey put his arm round my shoulders and said that was the best present he would get and he’d see me after Christmas.

As he strode off after saying goodbye to the others I heard Alistair say to Jonathan. “Hard to choose, eh? Him, Jules, or Tuddy who I don’t know.”

Jonathan had a funny look on his face but didn’t say anything. Then he wrinkled his nose at Alistair. “We’d better be getting on. MacEwen’s calls!”

We each had a substantial carrier bag when we left the shop and Alistair bought some extra bananas and said he thought they might even be big enough for Jonathan. Alistair got a dig in the ribs for that and both laughed. Would I learn that habit of laughing after saying things? Why were bananas funny?

Anyway when we got to Grandma’s it was just after twelve. Alistair’s mother and father were there having arrived from Perth that morning and were just having a pre-prandial drink as Uncle Hamish said. Auntie Vanessa asked if Alistair was behaving himself. That made me giggle but Alistair just sneered. Jonathan, for once, said nothing. Grandpa said we could all have a drink as well. I think Grandpa and Uncle Hamish were having a whisky so Alistair and Jonathan said they would have the same and I had another Cola. Auntie Vanessa nudged me as she pointed her thumb at the pair who were all smiles with the glasses in their hands. “Typical Scots,” she whispered but was smiling as well. I knew what she meant as I had heard Grandfather Sinclair saying more than once he had to deal with many cases where drink was the main problem.

We had to drink up quickly as we had to get back home but before that I needed to ‘drain the tank’ - two Colas and I hadn’t been since before breakfast! Jonathan and Alistair were given two more carrier bags so I had to carry another of the MacEwen bags. Alistair said it would give my arm muscles exercise and I would end up like Arnie. I did ask what he meant and he said it was the bodybuilder in the film they had laughed about when Jonathan had the runs. I hadn’t seen the film but I did know what a bodybuilder was. The older Brigstock showed us a magazine one evening with all these huge men in it showing off their muscles. He said they were bodybuilders and he was going to exercise to make muscles like that. The Brigstock in our class said then his tongue should already be huge as he exercised that enough.

Of course we made quite a performance when we delivered our bags of fruit and the ones from Grandma with Jonathan saying we would need double rations for lunch. Mum pointed to the hall door and said he’d better report back to Dad that it was ‘Mission accomplished’. He took the hint and beetled off.

Alistair and I were told to take the two bags from Grandma into the drawing-room where Mum put the presents in them round the tree. While we had been out she must have put out all the others which were piled up already. She said we could stand and look but we were not to touch. Oh goody! I did see quite a big package with a label which said ‘Love to Jamie’. I wondered what it could be? There were two packages tied up with big pink bows so I guessed they would be for Caroline and Jacky. I mustn’t get too excited! Jonathan came along then and Mum told him to stand well back. He just laughed and said he would be pleased to get anything and that Dad had said his full rank had been restored. I think Alistair was going to say something about latrine duty but didn’t as Mum was there. He had twitted Jonathan about that when we were in Princes Street and asked if it was the same as ‘shit-house parade’ and Jonathan had told him to shut up. I had heard some of the older boys at school say that so I did know what that meant as well.

I was ready for lunch at half past one which was cold meats, pickles and baps. Mum said Grandfather and Aunt Cassie were having their lunch in his study which meant I couldn’t ask her about different doctors. That would have to wait like most things. After we had finished our lunch we were all told to keep out of the way again as much had still to be prepared for Christmas Dinner as there were many hungry gannets to feed and Mrs Grantly wanted to get back home. Jonathan said he supposed that description included Gran and Grandpa Drummond as well as Uncle Hamish and Aunt Vanessa and Great-Aunt Cassie…. He got no further as Mum was wielding one of Grandfather’s walking-sticks which was kept in the kitchen. Mum then said we would be having a substantial supper tonight as everyone would be going to the Christmas Eve service in the Cathedral and we wouldn’t be back until late. She said I’d better have a rest and also be ready to listen to the ‘Carols from King’s’ later in the afternoon.

“OK, laddie, up the wooden hill!” Jonathan held me by the shoulders. Alistair said he would spend an hour or so going through a couple of judgements he needed to understand before he wrote another essay he had on the back burner. If Alistair wasn’t around perhaps I could get some sensible answers from Jonathan. That was an unkind thought. Alistair had said he would answer my questions, too. Perhaps my questions could wait on the back-burner. I had found the meaning of that saying from Mrs Grantly. She always answered my questions but I couldn’t really ask her why our CCF wore trews and not the kilt.

I shuffled off my slippers when we got to my room. Jonathan did the same. “We’ll be up late tonight,” he said, “Better have a rest as instructed.”

I lay flat on the bed with my head on the pillow and he flopped on the bed beside me. I turned my head slightly and realised he was looking at me and smiling.

“Thinking again?” he asked. “Questions?”

Now or never. “Lots,” I said. “I won’t ask them all at once.”

He leaned towards me and put an arm over me. That was nice. I felt very close to him.

I think I had put two and two together. “Why do you wear trews on parade and who is Mrs McIver?”

His arm felt heavier on me as he leaned over further and kissed my forehead. “Jamie, I can answer both of those in one go. You are quite clever to make a connection.” He leaned back and grinned at me. “Let me get comfortable first.” He lay back and our shoulders were together. “It’s all to do with what naughty boys wearing the kilt do.” I felt his shoulder move against me. He was laughing silently. “What do all good Scots wear under the kilt?” he asked.

This was a question I had heard many times and the answer was supposed to be ‘nothing’ though the two times I had worn a borrowed kilt Mum had made me wear my pants underneath. Then there was some film I hadn’t seen but the older Brigstock had told us about it one night after supper where the Scottish soldiers had scared off the attacking natives by lifting up their kilts and showing off their willies ‘cause they hadn’t got any pants on. ‘Willy’ was another word I had already learned. The other older boys had laughed and said it was quite true. Stu Barclay had said it must be chilly in winter and when the wind blew. There was a chorus of ‘chilly willy’ until we heard Mr McWilliam in the corridor. I had giggled to myself as he might have thought we were making fun of his name.

I answered Jonathan’s question. “Nothing,” I said, “But is it true?” ‘True’, ‘trews’, was there a connection?

“If you are in the army in a Scottish regiment and have to wear the kilt it is forbidden to wear your undies unless you have to do Scottish dancing or athletics. It’s in the Queen’s Regulations,” Jonathan said very quietly. “Don’t say I told you but Dad told me that when he took me up to the castle once. There’s a mirror on the ground just inside the orderly room and the squaddies have to walk over it before they go out.” I must have moved against him. “You haven’t seen it?”

“No,” I whispered thinking what it would be like seeing your willy like that. And your balls as well, I thought. And why would the Queen have Regulations about it? “You didn’t tell me when we we’ve been up there.”

His shoulder nudged me again. “Never thought of it. Anyway, we didn’t go into the orderly room. I was with Dad that time and he saw me looking at it.” He nudged me again. “Didn’t see any squaddies walk over it though!”

That made sense about what Brigstock had said but mirrors weren’t mentioned. “One of the older boys said about a film he’d seen where the soldiers lifted up their kilts….” I didn’t get any further.

Jonathan laughed “…and the fuzzie-wuzzies ran away. I’ve seen that film on the telly. ‘Carry On Up the Khyber’ isn’t it?” Another nudge. “You don’t see what they’ve got but it scared the hell out of the little buggers and they all went running!” Another rude word but I didn’t say anything. He was quiet for a moment. I knew he was still laughing. “Anyway, back to answering your question. We have to wear trews because years ago Mrs McIver, who was the wife of the Rector at the time, heard laughter and discovered naughty cadets flapping their kilts up and down and displaying their goodies to all and sundry. So, kilts were banned. Trews henceforth! Highland Light Infantry! That’s because one of the governors was in that regiment.”

“Goodies”? Not ‘undies’. Oh! Jonathan meant they didn’t wear anything underneath and were showing each other and they weren’t dancing or doing athletics…

He had nudged me again. “Yep, poor Mrs McIver saw more than she bargained for. Big ones, small ones, whatever!”

I grinned. “Bigger than yours?”

He rolled over me. I felt crushed. He was laughing, though.

“Cheeky little bugger!” he said I got another kiss on the forehead. “Comparing me with the others, eh? No great difference?”

“Will I be big?” I asked quietly. Having seen all three I had seen there was little difference between them. I wondered though about what I had seen at School.

He rolled away from me. “Time will tell, but I’m not ashamed of what I’ve got so, little bro, you’ll probably be like me.”

“I hope so,” I whispered. I wanted to be like my big brother, and the others.

Nothing more was said and we must have dozed off as I heard a giggle next. It was Alistair. I was happy. I smiled up at him.

He put his finger to his lips. “He needs his sleep, he’s a growing boy!” He beckoned me up. I slid off the bed and found my slippers. As we left the bedroom he whispered. “King’s College is on in ten minutes. Time for tea and a scone, I guess.” So, we left Jonathan sleeping quietly and went downstairs to see what we could find.

Christmas Eve Afternoon: Later

There was a tray with a teapot and cups all ready in the television room where the big radio and loudspeakers were also. Scones as well. Grandfather and Great-Aunt Cassie were already sitting in two of the easy chairs and had cups being filled by Mum. The twins weren’t there. I remembered they were having tea at Geoffrey’s. Really with his sisters. The radio was on but the sound was turned down. Whatever the programme was on was just ending. Great-Aunt Cassie greeted Alistair and me with a wave.

“I always think Christmas begins with the service from King’s,” she said. “I sometimes manage to get a ticket but you hear it much more close up with the radio with a roaring fire to keep you warm.”

Grandfather chuckled. “You mean you’d also like a wee dram to accompany the singing, eh?”

Great-Aunt Cassie winked at me as I stood beside her before finding a chair. “Thought he would never ask.”

Alistair was no slouch. “Let me get them for you,” he said and went over to the sideboard where two decanters of whisky were on show. Grandfather said nothing but raised an arm and pointed down to the door of the sideboard. Alistair nodded his head and smiled. This was an instruction I’d seen before. Grandfather’s favourite and expensive malt whiskies were stored there.

“Is there any of the Dalmore left?” Grandfather asked. I looked at Mum who was still holding the teapot. She was grinning and nodded her head towards the door. Another signal. She meant me to fetch Dad.

As I left the room I heard Alistair say ‘There’s just under half a bottle…”

I thought Dad would still be in the study so I tapped on the door. I knew that was polite and, also, he didn’t like people barging in. Jonathan had said that was because he was sure Dad dealt with secret things and didn’t want anyone to see any of his papers.

There was a quiet ‘Come in’ so I opened the door. I don’t think there is anything secret in a novel as Dad had his feet up on the desk and was reading a Rebus book which he flapped at me. I knew he liked detective novels and he had said lots were a good read and I would like them, he was sure, a bit later when I was older. I remembered that was another time I had been told ‘later’!

“There’s King’s and whisky,” I announced and bowed. I had seen a butler do that on the telly when he went into some Lord’s study. Of course, Dad wasn’t but Grandfather was a Lord and I wondered if people bowed to him.

“In that order?” Dad asked and put his book down and heaved himself upright and wriggled his shoulders. “I think I need some exercise. A Christmas Day run with those lazy buggers!” He made a face and put his finger up to his lips. “Whoo, don’t tell your Mother!”

I knew I mustn’t tell Mum about the swear word, not about the run! I wouldn’t tell Jonathan and Alistair about the run… …or the swear word!

“Come on, Jamie, lead me to the bottle!”

Alistair had poured out six drams of whisky. But no Jonathan! There was a glass for him, or was it for me?

“Sorry, Jamie,” Mum said, “Would you get your brother. I suppose he’s still asleep.”

The sixth glass was for him! Bah! Anyway, I didn’t have to go upstairs as the great lump came rushing down the stairs and then slowed down when he saw me in the doorway. “I suppose I’m late!” he said.

I just grinned at him and mimed drinking.

Just then someone must have turned up the volume on the radio and the announcer was saying they would be going over to King’s College Cambridge… It was then a bit of a rush as I and Jonathan had to find seats and he had a glass and a cup of tea. I just had a cup of tea. I wrinkled my nose. I supposed I would have whisky ‘later’!

All was ready. There was silence and then a clear treble voice started ‘Once in Royal David’s city’ and no one stirred until the Nine Lessons and Carols finished with the thundering of the organ at the end. Great-Aunt Cassie was wiping her eyes with a hankie. “Christmas has started now,” she said.

Grandfather laughed. “There’s a wee drop left in the bottle. For you, Cassie, for you!”

We all laughed as Alistair poured a last tiny thimbleful into her raised glass.

There was nothing more to do until supper-time. I didn’t want to watch the telly. Dad said he still had things to do - reading his detective story I expect - and went off to the study.

Jonathan made a thumbs-up sign to Alistair and they were out and up the stairs as I heard Great-aunt Cassie say she wouldn’t mind a game of three-handed bridge. That left me. I still had the last chapter or so of Treasure Island to read and that was in the bedroom so I trundled up the stairs as well. Jonathan wasn’t in there. He must have gone into his bedroom - I mean Alistair’s at the moment. Being nosy I went along and they hadn’t quite closed the door. I didn’t mean to listen but I definitely heard Alistair say something like ‘You’ll have to make up your mind and take whatever tickles your fancy most’. What did he mean? I couldn’t ask as I was overhearing things really by snooping.

By supper time I had finished the book. I had enjoyed it very much and I hoped I might get a book or two for Christmas presents. Pete Douglas had said he had read a Sherlock Holmes story which was quite creepy. That was a detective story and I wondered if Dad or Grandfather had any of those. That was something I could ask on the way to the Cathedral.

Anyway, there was a good pot of stew for supper which had been in the slow cooker all afternoon. It was most substantial as Grandfather said and even Caroline and Jacky had big bowlfuls! No comments were made by Jonathan who seemed particularly quiet for once. I had a second helping and Alistair scraped the pot!

We did look very smart, all nine of us in a row, waiting for the two taxis which would take us to St Mary’s. Dad had that grin on his face. “You don’t think you’d be better as a choirboy at St Mary’s, eh Jamie?”

I’d heard that before. I liked singing but I didn’t think I’d want to do it all the time. Of course, the choirboys there had their own school as well. It was said it was a good school but I was enjoying being at Kinloch. We went to the Episcopal Cathedral because Grandfather’s father had been a legal advisor to the Bishop at some time in the past and attendance had continued since then according to Jonathan. Mrs Grantly always put a finger under her nose when St Mary’s was mentioned. She said it was posh. She said posh with a funny accent which Jonathan said was imitating the English. He said he didn’t think it was important which church you went to. Mrs Grantly’s family were all Church of Scotland. I didn’t know any difference and wasn’t really interested. What I liked was the singing of the choir and the sound of the big organ!

Great-Aunt Cassie put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re happy where you are at school isn’t that so, Jamie?” She said that with a sweet smile. I think she wanted to tease Dad. What could I say? Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough and Jacky teased me instead.

“Oh, Jamie,” she said, “You’d look so wonderful in a lovely red cassock and surplice. Everyone would come and hear you sing!” She said ‘wonderful’ with that first bit all drawn out. It made Caroline laugh. Sisters!

“I am quite happy to be at Kinloch,” I said as firmly as I could.

“Good for you, mate!” Jonathan said. “We’ve got to stand together. I’ve heard all that before.” Alistair murmured ‘Hear, Hear!’.

I think Grandfather was going to say something but just then the two taxis came along and stopped right by us. I deliberately waited as I was by Great-Aunt Cassie until she got into the second cab as it was nearest to us. That left us three boys as the other five had clambered into the first one. Jonathan got in beside the driver so Alistair let me into the back before he got in last.

Great-Aunt Cassie was laughing. “Are you enjoying the visit so far, Alistair?”

He gave a laugh as well. “After a rather frosty reception all is well. Isn’t that so, Jamie?”

I said ‘Yes’. I must say I liked Alistair. I didn’t listen to what they were saying next as I was thinking about all the things which had happened since I had been home. I thought I must ask Great-Aunt Cassie my question before I forgot. We had stopped at a red light and they had stopped talking, too. As I was sitting on the little seat opposite her it was now or never, another thing Mr McWilliam always said when he had something important to say. She must have seen me looking at her.

“You look pensive, Jamie,” she said and smiled.

“Are there different doctors?” I asked. “You are a doctor and so is Mrs Grantly’s son and we have Dr Muirhead and he has patients….”

She gave a little laugh and I saw Alistair smile as the taxi started going again. “No, Jamie, I don’t have patients, but I have to have patience! Especially with some of the students I have.” She gave Alistair a nudge. “It is true there are different doctors. It’s a title and originally meant a teacher, like me and Mrs Grantly’s son. I mustn’t boast but I’m a doctor twice over. I was awarded the first title after I passed an examination on my research when I was much younger, then the University awarded me another one not so long ago because of my books and other things I’ve written.” I rather gaped as I didn’t know she was a doctor twice over. She was nodding. “I expect Dr Grantly was awarded his for his research into mathematics.” She held up a finger. “And don’t forget your Grandpa Drummond is a doctor as well hiding behind being a Professor.” That was something else I didn’t know.

It was Alistair’s turn. “I bet Dr Muirhead isn’t a proper doctor ‘cause he practises medicine,” he said with a grin. “It’s an honorary title for Bachelors of Medicine, isn’t it, Aunt? ”

I was a bit confused. “He’s not a proper doctor ‘cause he’s still practising?” I asked. Thinking maybe it was like you practised kicking the ball until you got it over the bar every time.

Both of them were grinning and shaking their heads. “No, Jamie,” Great-Aunt Cassie said, “It’s two meanings of the word ‘practise’. He’s qualified to treat patients but as most of them only have bachelor degrees in medicine they have an honorary title.”

“Jamie,” Alistair butted in, “It gets even more confusing ‘cause if Dr Muirhead trained to became a surgeon he would be entitled to be called ‘Mister’.” He laughed. “When I had my tonsils out it was a lady surgeon and she was Miss Dickinson!”

I was getting very confused so I suppose it was lucky that we arrived near enough to the Cathedral just to walk a few yards. Great-Aunt Cassie put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s all confusing isn’t it? Never mind, just ask and we’ll try to make things clear.”

I was happy with that, but there was so much to learn. I just wished I could find out more about the things Jonathan, Alistair and Geoffrey laughed about. Still, the Christmas Eve service in the Cathedral was quite wonderful and I did smile to myself when I saw the choirboys all dressed up in red and white just like on two of the Christmas cards set up on the mantelpiece.

It was quite late when we arrived back home as we had to wait inside the warm cathedral until our taxis turned up. I was too tired to ask anymore questions and I think Great-Aunt Cassie was tired, too, as she yawned a couple of times before we reached home. I wanted my bed so didn’t wait when drinks were offered and went straight upstairs. I must have been asleep when Jonathan came to bed beside me as I was awoken Christmas morning by him being dragged out by Alistair all togged up in sweatshirt and sweatpants. “Your father’s waiting for you, lazy-bones, time to run!”