Christmas pudding; kilt and sporran; Monopoly; Just William;

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Nine

Uncle Hamish was put in charge of handing out the presents with Caroline and Jacky to help him. There were loads! I ended up with quite a pile from that biggish box, smaller wrapped parcels to several envelopes. I wasn’t too surprised when Uncle Hamish read out names and then said who they were from, even from me. I hadn’t bought any as Mum had said she would deal with all the presents I was giving. I saw Jonathan had opened the parcel said to be from me: it was a pair of green rugby socks and he did look pleased. His present to me was the same! I wondered if Mum had bought them for him to give me?

I was pleased, too. The biggest parcel was a game of Monopoly. I hadn’t played it but had seen some of the bigger boys in our House at Kinloch with a set which was always being used when we had our free time after prep in the evenings. I didn’t think I would take it to school but it would be good to play with Lucas and Logan and anyone else here at home. I also had clothes and sweets and an envelope from each of my grandparents and old Mrs Cathcart. There were four books as well, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Little Prince, Emil and the Detectives, and a Just William book. I remembered Peter had said he had read two or three Just William books and thought they were funny though he wondered if all English boys were scruffy like William and had gangs. Watson McPhee said he’d read one and thought the same and had imitated some girl called Violet Elizabeth in the book who lisped. We had all tried lisping after that which made us all laugh as Stu Barclay tried to say ‘Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers’ like that girl, ‘Thithter Thuthie’th.thoing...’. We all called him ‘Thtu’ and Cheng said it made ‘hith tongue thore’.

Anyway I was pleased with all my presents especially as each of the four envelopes had a ten pound note in it. That was a lot of money and was more than I’d ever had before in one go. I wondered what I could spend it on. I didn’t know as I didn’t think I needed anything. I was happy I had the books. Jacky said Mum had told them that Charlie and the Just William were from them to me! Just like my presents to them of some special ‘stinky bath gel’ as nasty Jonathan called it and said that the bottles weren’t big enough for the number of baths they needed. He was pleased, though, as their presents to him were two lots of after-shave. He just sneered when Alistair ran a finger round his chin and said he might need the stuff in five year’s time. I did notice Alistair didn’t openly display one present which was from my Dad and Mum. I saw Dad was smiling as Alistair started to unwrap the box and Jonathan was sniggering. Dad said something like “Had a job to find one like that. They’re rarer than hen’s teeth now!” After Alistair had put it carefully with his other fully opened things I did manage a peek. It was a ‘Litesome Supporter’ - oh! - one of those pouch things ‘cause I’d seen that on the label at the front of that old one Jonathan liked wearing! When Jacky and Caroline were parading around with scarves and small handbags, clutches they called them, I heard Jonathan whisper to him that perhaps he should model his presents. I knew he’d got socks and a windcheater as well. Those and just that pouch covering his thing would cause a laugh! Rude!

I had managed to sneak that peek at Alistair’s present because Dad said I should collect up all the wrappings and put them into a black plastic bag so had almost picked it up as well before Alistair put his hand down. I don’t think anyone had noticed that as they were too busy looking at their own gifts. I wondered when I was old enough if I would get a supporter for my thing and balls and why were they rare? Hen’s teeth? I must remember that. Anyway it was getting near eating-time. Mum, Auntie Vanessa and Great-Aunt Cassie had already gone to the kitchen. Dad soon followed them making chopping movements as he would be carving and bringing in the turkey. The last of the champagne was poured and Alistair poured a smidgen of his into my glass. As this was at least his fourth he wouldn’t miss it. Then he would have wine with the dinner so perhaps he would slip under the table.

It wasn’t too long before there was a clanging noise from the hallway. Grandfather Sinclair said it was the dinner gong but it was probably Dad just banging a tin tray. It meant we had to process into the dining-room. I remembered my good manners and went over to old Mrs Cathcart. I did a little bow like I’d seen a man on television do at some grand dinner. She smiled and I took her left arm as she had a stick in her right hand. All the others followed us with Jonathan and Grandma Drummond next. Everyone was laughing happily especially when Caroline said to Jacky they would have to see each other in and be last but not least.

Goodness me! The Christmas dinner was gorgeous. I didn’t use that word but Caroline did when we finished and sat back all full up. First though before eating we had to pull the crackers, put our paper hats on and read out our jokes which were in them. Mine was ‘Why don’t oysters lend out their pearls?’. Jacky had the same one in her cracker and had read it out first so people thought I was clever when I said ‘Because they’re shellfish!’. I got a nudge from Great-Aunt Cassie and then I had to confess I had the answer as it was my riddle too. Everyone groaned when Caroline read out hers and we heard the answer. “Why did the girl put a bar of chocolate under her pillow?” “Because she wanted sweet dreams.” After that we had to have toasts. I did have a little of the white wine for those so I wouldn’t be left out. We toasted the Queen, our country, all present and, finally, absent friends. I saw that both Grandpas as well as Alistair and Jonathan had to have more poured into their glasses for the last two toasts. Grandpa Drummond said he’d forgotten there would be four toasts so had made sure that Queen and country were well-launched. Alistair and Jonathan were giggling and I heard Alistair say something about ‘bottoms’. Jonathan must have seen me looking and winked at me and did the ‘thumb’s-up’ sign. I hoped that meant he would tell me what they were giggling about later because all they did was laugh and laugh when they were in the hallway afterwards and I heard Alistair ask Jonathan “Why didn’t the boy put a bottle of water under his pillow?”. He emphasised ‘didn’t’ specially. They wouldn’t tell me about that either and they kept saying ‘Bottle of water’ time and time again and laughing stupidly until Alistair went home.

Anyway, everyone was very happy when the food appeared with the soup first. As the plates of turkey and stuffing came round I helped old Mrs Cathcart by spooning out the vegetables for her. I noticed she was a bit shaky but she did manage to eat a good plateful. Jonathan had so much turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, veggies and lots of gravy piled on his plate that when he finished it all he had the burps. Luckily for him there were two crackers left over which he and Grandma pulled but I heard the burps and everyone else must have as well. Of course, we were much too polite to mention it but I saw Mum give him a look. Anyway, I was too busy looking at Dad pouring brandy over the Christmas pudding before striking a match and causing it to be covered in blue flames. Everyone clapped as he brought it to the table and placed it in front of Mum and we had to wait a moment until the flames died down before she cut slices from it. Dad then produced a second pud from the hot cupboard. It was a good job there was a second one as with so many at the table I was worried we wouldn’t all get a share. What I mean I was worried in case there wasn’t enough for me! Anyway, all was well and Great-Aunt Cassie was in charge of the brandy cream to go with it and she put a good dollop of it on my slice. She gave me another nudge when she did so and I was sure I had a bigger helping of that than old Mrs Cathcart next to me.

I didn’t have any more wine but a very nice fruit juice and I saw Mum look at Jonathan when he held his glass up for Dad to pour him a third lot when he went round with the bottle. I think he would get told off later. He didn’t look too worried though. After all that there was a nice cup of coffee to finish and all the grown-ups had a brandy or liqueur to go with it. Alistair was counted amongst the grown-ups but Mum raised a finger and made a cutting movement when Dad got to Jonathan but he did have a little wine still in his glass which he finished off before he drank his coffee.

When all were done with their drinks we went to the other room to sit and wait to hear the Queen’s Speech. I must say Jonathan was most polite and came and helped old Mrs Cathcart up from her chair and she held onto his arm as we went from the table. He even put a cushion behind her back when she sat down in one of the armchairs. I saw Alistair grinning at him and Dad whispered something to Alistair which set him off giggling once again.

There was a little time before three o’clock and everyone chatted together before Dad switched the telly on. Dad stood to attention all the time the Queen was speaking. I knew he had been presented to her several times and, of course, the Queen Mother was Colonel-in-Chief of the Black Watch which was Dad’s original Regiment before he transferred to the Royal Marines. I knew all that because I’d heard it all discussed when in my favourite place under the table in the kitchen listening to Mum and Mrs Grantly!

There was more coffee if anyone wanted it when the Queen had finished and the telly switched off. The girls and Jonathan went off to help Mum and Auntie Vanessa to clear the table and Dad and Alistair took old Mrs Cathcart off home next door. She had said thankyou to everyone and Alistair was in charge of the carrier bag with her presents in it. I know there was a fun one in there of a pack of cat food for her pets. I went to the front door with them and held it open until they were safely out. I thought I had better help Mum, too, but as I passed the drawing room I peered in. Uncle Hamish was just finishing his coffee and saw me. He grinned and pointed. My three grandparents and Great-Aunt Cassie had their eyes closed and were dozing already. He got up and we went to see if there were any jobs to do.

“In days of yore there would be three maids, two footmen and a butler to get all this lot cleared up, let alone a cook and sundry others in the kitchen to prepare it all,” he said as we walked slowly to the diningroom and stopped just outside the door. “That top floor of yours and the attic would have been their quarters with cook and the housemaids down in the basement where the kitchen used to be. Did you know that?”

I said I knew about the rooms as well under the eaves as Mum had told me about them. I didn’t say that Jonathan had slept in the other bathroom when he had the bellyache. Mum had said the kitchen had been changed by Grandma Sinclair because even when she was first married it had been difficult to get servants then and, anyway, she liked to cook but didn’t like having to go down into the basement. I said about Grandma, too. I felt a bit said because I didn’t remember her. I hope I didn’t show I was sad.

Uncle Hamish nodded when I said about the kitchen. “These old houses have a few tales to tell, Jamie. What with number 12 being haunted and Mr MacIntosh’s den of thieves in number 22 across the square.”

I grinned. I had heard both stories. I said I’d heard them from Jonathan who always pointed out both houses when we walked past them. I said Number 12 was now made into four flats and it wasn’t really haunted but an old lady had heard rumbling sounds which turned out to be air in the water pipes.

“Yep,” Uncle Hamish went on. “And I remember standing on the front steps here when the police swooped on Big Shuggy Mac as he was known. Been to the flicks with your Auntie Nessa. Years ago now. Time flies.” He peered into the diningroom where there was a sound of cutlery and other things being gathered up.

Jonathan came through with a tray load of dirty crockery. ‘Dishwasher ahead,’ he muttered as he passed us. He was followed by Caroline who was carrying one of the big vegetable tureens. ‘Mustn’t drop this,’ she murmured as she went on her way to the kitchen as well.

“I think we’d better stand well back,” Uncle Hamish said quietly. “It looks as if everything is under control.”

Just then there was a crash and Mum said very loudly “Oh, damn!”. Uncle Hamish hurried through the door and I followed more slowly. There was only Mum in the room and she waved a hand at Uncle Hamish. “It’s OK, it’s only the tray with the leftover turkey on it. Bit battered but nothing that can’t be salvaged!”

Oh! I had heard Mum swear! I almost giggled at that as well as seeing the rest of the turkey with the metal tray by it. Luckily, it had landed on the polished floor and not the carpet. Mum was laughing now. “It’s a good job it was me who was the clumsy mutt.” She saw me looking at the mess and then at her. “And Jamie, I do know some words not to be used in polite company.” She hoicked up her long dress and knelt on the floor and the bits were soon forked back onto the tray. She had a tea towel over her shoulder which she then used to wipe her hands. Uncle Hamish bent down and lifted the tray and put it back on the stand on the sideboard. He then helped Mum up. “Thanks,” she said, “I hope no one else heard my little outburst.”

We hadn’t noticed but Jonathan was standing just inside the door. “Mother dear,” he said, “I was prepared to see a flood and would have agreed that was the only answer to stem the tide.”

I looked at him. He had an absolutely straight face. Mum balled up the tea towel and threw it at him. “Hamish, I give you permission to throttle that lanky loon but there would be more mess than a mere turkey to clear up!” Jonathan put his fingers to his lips and blew her a kiss then bent down and picked up the towel. “We need a mop to get up the rest of the mess,” Mum said pointing at the wet splodges on the floor. Jonathan nodded and hurried off. “He’s not too bad,” she said and smiled.

“And this one?” Uncle Hamish put a hand on my shoulder.

Mum screwed her face up but she did smile then. “He’s learning!”

I wondered what she meant by that. Mum shooed us out of the room and said we should go and rest and leave everything to those already helping. I found my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book still by the tree and started to read it but the gentle snores of the others made me feel very sleepy. It was when Dad and Alistair came in laughing about something that woke me up as well as the others. Alistair was waving a wad of notes. “All for me!” he warbled as he held them close to my nose.

“No they’re not!” Dad said and grabbed them from him and riffled through them. “There’s one for you and one each for all the delightful youngsters and I’m sure she really didn’t mean to include you when she said that and miscounted.”

Alistair held up the five pound note which Dad had passed to him. “It’s still very kind of her,” he said and then added quietly “Is it true she’s eighty-nine?”

“Never ask a lady’s age,” Great-Aunt Cassie said. “And do I count as a delightful youngster because I know I’m years younger than she is?” She held a hand to her lips. “But she always seemed old even when I was Jamie’s age and she was next door married to Mr Cathcart.”

Grandpa Drummond laughed. “Cassie dear, you’ll always be a delightful youngster to me.”

“Yes, I know, you’re all of two months older than I am and I notice my dear brother stays silent.”

“What can I add but you age with grace.” Grandfather Sinclair covered his face with his hand. “Oh dear, I suppose I’ve put my foot in it now.”

“As ever,” Great-Aunt Cassie said.

Again Jonathan had appeared silently. “Who is Grace?” he asked. “Is she an old Great-Aunt I don’t know?”

Grandfather snorted. “Arthur, give him his money or he’ll be asking is it better to age like cheese or like fine wine?”

“And which am I?” Great-Aunt Cassie asked and beckoned to Jonathan. He came and stood beside her armchair. “A sweet old Sauternes or a ripe Stilton?”

I knew the cheese name but I didn’t know the other. Jonathan bent down and kissed her cheek gently.

“You are my one and only favourite Great-Aunt and I would never question your sweetness or otherwise,” he said quietly.

“Rogue!” Great-Aunt Cassie said and put an arm up and round him and then she laughed. “He deserves his share after that most diplomatic response.”

Dad just snorted and handed Jonathan a five pound note and then tossed his head and passed me one, too. “At least there are two left for my dear daughters and I must say the old girl is most generous. I saw all the avaricious eyes glinting when the envelopes were opened earlier.”

“I guess there’s plenty where that came from so don’t worry,” said Grandpa Drummond, “And I saw Alison opening an envelope as well.”

“Yes,” Dad said nodding. “Same as last year and before that, too. We said no but she insisted. Most generous.”

I thought that as well. Fifteen pounds to spend just from Mrs Cathcart!

The grown-ups were awake now and once Mum announced all was cleared up and she would have a rest the others decided they would play bridge. I was pleased because Alistair and Jonathan said they would play Monopoly with me as long as I didn’t cheat. Cheek! The girls said they didn’t want to play with three others but would give me a game another time. Jonathan said they just wanted to go off and spray themselves with all that stinky stuff they had as presents. They got their own back as they stood in front and behind Jonathan where he was sitting and sprayed him and I’m sure he nearly said a rude word. They bent down and both gave him a kiss.

“At least he smells better than usual,” Caroline said and they went off giggling.

Alistair gave Jonathan a sniff and just missed being hit but Jonathan was smiling. I thought I hadn’t better do the same in case he got annoyed. Anyway Alistair found a card table and we three sat round it and I learned how to play Monopoly. Alistair said we would keep it simple to start with and not buy houses. I did end up with Bond Street and Park Lane but Jonathan managed to get all four Utilities and I had to pay him rent twice. Still I enjoyed it and I think I was just as fast as them in counting up the totals on the two dice and tapping my Top Hat round the board. We had a laugh as Alistair did get Sent To Gaol but he was lucky and had a Get Out of Gaol Free card already.

All too soon it was time for a cup of tea but nobody wanted any of the Christmas cake which Mum brought in. She said it would keep for later.

I don’t remember much more about Christmas Day as we had some supper later after I had played Ludo with Grandpa Drummond and I was really tired so went off to bed. I slept very soundly and it was quite light when I woke up. I was alone in the bed. In fact I was in the middle of the bed all tucked in with Mr Lion just where I had put him when I got into bed last night. Jonathan must have been in the other room with Alistair. I got up because I needed a jimmy and looked out of the window. It must have snowed in the night because all seemed whiter outside. I was soon snug back in bed and I had seen that the other bedroom door was shut. I hoped the weather wasn’t too bad to go and practice on the Rugby pitch this week. I had enjoyed those two afternoons. I looked at the clock. It said half past eight. My, I had slept a long time. I wondered if Jonathan had gone running with Dad and Alistair but if it was snowy it might be too slippery. I was getting a bit fidgety. I realised why. I needed to go to the lav again. A Number Two! It must have been all that food yesterday. Luckily it didn’t take long and I had a grin ‘cause the lav then needed a spray of my sisters’ stinky stuff but as they weren’t there with it I used a good squirt of the air freshener. I thought it smelt worse but, anyway, I knew the extractor fan worked well.

After all that I thought I would get up and take my Charlie book downstairs and read it there. All was quiet when I went to the bathroom. I didn’t have a shower but washed carefully, even my bum, and slipped back to my bedroom just holding my ‘jamas. Still no sound from Jonathan’s room. I got dressed and went downstairs carrying my book. Mum was in the kitchen. She laughed when she saw me.

“Just you and me,” she said, “Your Dad’s still snoring and I haven’t seen anyone else. Your Uncle Hamish’ll have a sore head I’m sure...” She mimed drinking. “...and wait until I get my hands on that brother of yours. He and that other fiend finished off the bottle of Merlot I had as a present from Mary Hutchins. I had one tasting and the next I knew the bottle was empty and those two had silly grins on their faces. I give you permission to pour a jug of cold water over the pair and that should wake them up!” She laughed again.

There was a voice behind me. “Mum, got a confession to make.” It was Jonathan, I hadn’t heard him come down the stairs. I turned and looked at him. He looked very bleary-eyed and was wearing just a pair of those stripy boxers. “I didn’t get to the bathroom in time. Need a bucket and a mop.” He closed his eyes. “My head,” he said and screwed up his eyes.

I looked at Mum. She just shook her head. “Seen it all before,” she said quietly. She went to the cleaning cupboard and got out a pail and a mop. She came over and handed the things to him. As he took them from her he stood up a bit straighter and I saw the end of his long thing peep below the leg of his boxers. “Like father, like son,” she said again quietly. Did she mean Dad had been sick as well some time?

Jonathan went off and I heard him groan. “I hope that’ll teach him a lesson,” she said once she saw he was going up the stairs in the hall. “I’ll send your Dad up later to check. I hope the other one has a stronger stomach as the pair downed even more than your uncle. But boys will be boys.” She looked at me and smiled. “I’m not really angry with him as it’s all part of growing-up.” She held up a finger. “Look and learn, but I expect your time will come. Anyway, juice and some cereal, eh?”

I said ‘Yes, please’ but I had even more to think about. I wondered if Dad would be angry as I remembered when we were in Athens there was a strict rule that the soldiers shouldn’t drink if on duty. I knew that because I’d heard Sergeant Pepperdine telling one Private he would be in great trouble if he didn’t keep off the sauce. One of the other boys staying at the Embassy, Mark Thomas, who was a bit older than me, had said the Sergeant had meant keep off the booze and I understood that word.

I wasn’t all that hungry but I did manage cereals and a banana and a big glass of juice. I asked Mum if it had snowed in the night. She said it had and the forecast was for more so the journey back to Perth for Auntie, Uncle and Alistair might be a bit tricky in the morning. She said Uncle Hamish had to be back because of something to do with an oil-rig where someone was suing someone else. I didn’t really know what an oil-rig did but I knew that Jack Pringle’s father had something to do with them.

It was well past nine o’clock now so I went through to the drawing room and sat and read. All was quiet. I must have been reading for some time when I heard Jonathan coming back down the stairs. He said something to Mum and she laughed. She must have said I was in the drawing-room as he came in and lumped down next to me on the sofa. He was still only wearing those boxers and as he stretched his thing and his balls were on full show.

“Oh, my head,” he moaned, “I’ve never felt like this before.” I saw he had closed his eyes and were screwing them up. I looked down. At least his thing wasn’t all stiff. It was just floppy. He moaned, then whispered “I’m going back to bed. Can I use yours?”

I suppose I’d better be kind but I hoped he wouldn’t be sick on the nice rugs on my floor. I said ‘Yes’ and he made a ‘grrh’ sound and lumbered off. Mum came in soon after and was smiling.

“The poor boy needs his bed, eh?” she said.

I said I had lent him mine and hoped he wouldn’t be sick again.

“So he didn’t share with you last night?” she asked. “In with Alistair, I suppose.”

I said I was alone last night. Mum smiled again. I think she said ‘Interesting’ very quietly. “And those boxers!” She laughed then. I was rather glad she hadn’t seen him all displayed though she must have seen all that when he was little. I knew she had seen me and not so long ago because in the summer just before I went to Kinloch I was in the garden just in shorts playing with one of Mrs Cathcart’s cats and I must have squeezed him and he’d clawed the top of my leg and made it bleed. Mum had to look and put some ointment on the place. But I wasn’t as big as Jonathan is.

She wanted to know if I wanted more juice but I’d had plenty. Jut then Auntie Vanessa came down the stairs. Mum and she began to laugh as Auntie said Uncle Hamish was dead to the world and would be as grumpy as hell when he woke up. “Mine’s still out and snoring,” Mum said and I knew she meant Dad. If this is what drink does I don’t think I wanted to be like that. Great-Aunt Cassie was the next to appear and she seemed very cheerful. Were they OK because ladies didn’t drink so much?

The three went off to the kitchen and I was left alone with my book. I liked being alone but I did miss my friends at school. Thinking about it I had enjoyed how Jonathan and Alistair had been so friendly as well. I suppose I could expect that of Jonathan as he was my brother but I wouldn’t mind if Alistair was a brother, too. Then there was Geoffrey and the boys I had met just these past couple of weeks. I hoped we would meet up again before I had to return to school. No Rugby practice if there was snow on the ground, though. I liked Geoffrey and I wondered if I could hear him play the piano. I wondered if I should ask Mum why Grandma’s piano was locked. I’d never heard it played though I think I remember it being tuned once.

I needed to have a pee again so instead of going to the lav near the front door I went all the way upstairs to our bathroom. At least there wasn’t any sick on the floor. It did smell clean as he must have sprayed air freshener around as well. When I’d finished I went along and opened my bedroom door carefully. Jonathan wouldn’t have heard me as he was fast asleep and snoring. Those boxers were on the floor. I didn’t think I’d better check on Alistair but as I turned to go down the stairs that bedroom door opened and Alistair staggered out quite naked and went straight into the bathroom and I heard him being sick. I hoped his head was over the lav. I didn’t wait to see or hear any more and went back downstairs. I wondered if all boys got drunk at some time. Being sick was horrible. I remembered when I was about six and had eaten something which upset my stomach. Nasty!

People did start to appear about lunchtime. Grandpa Drummond had forgotten his razor and said he felt a bit rough about the jowls but Grandma said something like ‘No more than usual’. Dad had appeared a bit earlier and had gone to look at our car in the garage as he thought one of the rear lights was not working and would have to change the bulb. After he did that he disappeared upstairs and came back down again and announced he’d smacked two bare backsides so there were aches at both ends now for the pair. Everyone, including them and my sisters, assembled for lunch at one o’clock. Cold turkey, slices of ham, potato salad, ordinary salad and hot baps. I was hungry and had a good helping. All yesterday’s food had gone through me.

I saw Jacky and Caroline were carrying a book each which I had seen them get amongst their presents yesterday. Jacky showed me hers. It had a dark red cover with ‘Journal’ printed on it but all the pages were blank but had ruled lines. She said both she and Caroline had kept a journal, something like a diary, for the last two years of all the things that happened to them especially while they were at school. Caroline said they put in all kinds of things which they thought were interesting as well. Great-Aunt Cassie said it sounded like that diary in The Importance of Being Earnest as it could be ‘Something sensational to read in the train’. “Probably best kept under lock and key,” Dad said. There was quite a lot of laughter after that, not only about their diaries being made into books later but also about the play Great-Aunt Cassie had mentioned. That all sounded funny especially when she said about the mix-up with the book and the baby and she said ‘A handbag!’ in a deep gruff voice.

After lunch Uncle Hamish and Auntie Vanessa went off with Grandpa and Grandma Drummond but Alistair stayed with strict instructions to be ready to be collected in the morning at nine fifteen or he’d have to pay his own train fare home to Perth. The roads would be clear by then as no more snow was forecast. It was then I played Monopoly with Jacky and Caroline and I said I thought that having a journal was a good idea as I often had things I didn’t understand and being told ‘later’ and I needed not to forget them. They didn’t laugh but said I was a deep one and they would get me a journal from Jenners where theirs had come from. That would be a Birthday present for me before my birthday! My sisters kept their promise because they went to Jenners two days later to spend some of their Christmas money and when they came back presented me with a Journal in the red binding just like Jacky’s. Of course, Jonathan had twitted them before they went saying they shouldn’t spend good money on knick-knacks and he didn’t mean those baggy bloomers they had to wear when playing hockey. It was a good job Mum wasn’t in the room as he had got told off once before when he danced round the kitchen with a pair of them on his head saying they were just the thing to keep his ears warm!


I was up and had had breakfast when Alistair and Jonathan came down the next morning. I knew Dad had decreed no run before breakfast for the three of them as there was still some snow around and Alistair had to be ready to leave for Perth. Alistair said Jonathan had helped him pack and he’d been given a pair of those awful boxers. Jonathan told me later it was ‘cause the ‘silly bugger’ said he’d run out of anything clean. I supposed Jonathan had made sure Alistair was up in time as he hadn’t slept with me again that night. I think Alistair had forgotten to pack his washcloth because there was a smelly squelchy one beside Jonathan’s on the floor of the shower and I didn’t notice it until after he had gone.

Alistair had given me a hug before he went down the front steps to the car. “You’ll do well at school,” he said, “And I hope to see you at Easter.” I smiled at him and nodded. I wondered if I should give him a kiss but thought I hadn’t better though I’d seen him and Jonathan hug each other at the top of the stairs and I was sure they had given each other a kiss as well.

The rest of the week until Hogmanay went quite quickly. We couldn’t have anymore Rugby practice as the pitch was still covered with snow but I went to Lucas and Logan’s to play table tennis and we rearranged some of the tracks for the electric train set to run a different route. They came and played Monopoly and Ludo and Logan really preferred Ludo. I also started my Journal and at the back wrote a long list of all the words I liked but didn’t put any of the ones I wasn’t supposed to say. Then on the page before that I put ‘hen’s teeth’ because that would be useful to remember and say. I wrote ‘Phrases’ at the top and I did remember how to spell that. On the first pages I wrote in my neatest handwriting all about my time at school so far, but certainly didn’t mention what those boys had written on the wall, or the discussions about growing-up. Then there were all those things I had heard Jonathan and Alistair talking about. I would have to think about how to write such things in some secret way. Who could I ask? I wondered if Peter might know. More to think about. Anyway with my Journal and my books to read I wouldn’t be bored even if it snowed and snowed!

On Thursday Mum took Jonathan and me to the outfitters and we hired our Highland Dress in Drummond tartan ready for the Hogmanay Dinner at the Conservative Club. I didn’t have a jacket but a very smart silver-buttoned waistcoat but Jonathan had the proper full outfit. Of course, when we got home Jonathan and I had to put our kilts and sporrans on again to show Grandfather who was working in his study. Jonathan said we mustn’t wear underpants now which we had kept on in the shop ‘cause we had to take our trousers off to be fitted. I felt rather foolish when we paraded in front of Grandfather in case he asked questions like ‘Was I a proper Scot?’. He didn’t. He just said we looked ‘verra smart’.

“That ordeal’s over, Jamie,” Jonathan said when we went up back to my bedroom where we had changed, “I never know what Grandfather might say”. That was something else for me to ponder. Jonathan then said we had better keep our kilts on to show Dad. He was laughing. “You can put your undies on now. I just told you we should be like that as a joke but make sure you keep them on in future.”

I was a bit puzzled. “You said it was in Queen’s Regulations and I believed you,” I said. “What’s true?” I must have looked a bit downcast.

He was hopping about on one leg trying to get his other big foot through the leg hole of a skimpy pair of pants which he had told me was called a slip. I wondered if he might slip over if he wasn’t careful. “Don’t get upset, Jamie. It’s quite true about Queen’s Regulations. I checked that in an old copy in Dad’s room but...” Here he giggled. “ mustn’t get any drips on the inside of the kilt. You know the rhyme ‘It doesn’t matter how many times you shake your peg, the last drop always goes down your leg!’.”

Yes, I had heard that as Stu Barclay always said it when he’d been to the lav. It always made Cheng laugh ‘cause he said his brother had had a wet patch once because he had rushed back from the lav to see the last bit of a programme on the telly.

I liked wearing the kilt and my sporran was very smart. The man in the shop let me choose which sporran I wanted. There were several for boys my size and the one I liked he said was a good choice as it was very nicely made. He said it was sealskin but I really chose it for the silver trim at the top. It had those three silver balls dangling as well. Jonathan said that I looked just like a pawnbroker’s but he rushed out of the room to go to the lav before I had a chance to ask him what he meant. I did learn later from him that a pawnbroker’s sign was three balls and a pawnbroker was someone who would lend money on jewellery or watches and poor people used to pawn their Sunday clothes and get them back by paying more than they borrowed on Saturday. That seemed daft to me but Jonathan said they did that to pay for food or beer during the week until they got paid their wages on Friday. Very strange. Anyway he had three balls as well. Oh, I giggled when I thought of that as I meant on his sporran not behind it!

Dad had had a telephone call at breakfast time and when he came back to the kitchen had said it was something urgent round at Princes Street though he was supposed to be on leave until January the First! He hadn’t come home by lunchtime and I think Mum was a bit worried over what might be happening. However he came home just after six o’clock and I could see he wasn’t in a very good mood when he stuck his head into the drawing room where Jonathan and I were sitting playing Snap with him telling me he was getting hungrier about every minute and a half. Dad waved and then went off to the kitchen where I heard him say to Mum that there had been a regular fuck-up at the London end. I hadn’t heard Dad say a word like that before but Brigstock had said it when we should have had a PE lesson in the gym but another class was already there from another House. I heard Mum say there was nothing that a good gin and tonic couldn’t calm and as soon as he got changed out of his Sunday suit she would have one ready for him. He did laugh then and I heard him thump up the stairs, something he would have told Jonathan off about. Jonathan held a finger up.

“Better be on our best behaviour tonight and you mustn’t say what Dad said, OK?”

I could see he was grinning and then he looked serious. “I bet something nasty has cropped up,” he said quietly. “We can’t ask and I hope he doesn’t have to fly off somewhere like he had to last time.” He put his hand over his lips. “We mustn’t worry but I know Dad is involved in rather secret things.”

Jonathan hadn’t been watching as we went on laying cards while he was talking. “Snap!” I said.

He grinned at me. “Caught me, didn’t you?”

We carried on with the game and then heard the telephone ring. Dad must have answered it on the bedroom extension and it wasn’t long before he came down and went to the kitchen again. Jonathan put his finger to his lips and we listened.

“It’s OK, dear, the lads on the ground have sorted it out,” we heard him say to Mum. “Why they don’t just leave it to them, they know what they’re doing. Bloody Ministry twats!” The last three words were said slowly and quite loudly.

Jonathan was grinning even more then and clasped his hands together and raised them up and down. He bent towards me over the card table and whispered “More words, eh? Dad must have been involved in making decisions...”

He stopped as we heard Mum say quite clearly “Watch what you say, your sons have radar-lugs! Here you are, drink this!”

I liked that ‘radar-lugs’. I’d heard it before when Jack Pringle was telling us about his brother who always listened in to his father when on the ‘phone and could even hear him through a closed door. He said his brother had ‘radar-lugs’. I think I understood that but why listen in to his father on the ‘phone? He could only hear what his father said.

Dad still seemed a bit edgy over dinner later, even though Grandfather and the girls were there as well, and we ate mostly in silence. He had smiled when he saw Jonathan and me in our Drummond kilts and said we made him very proud. Jonathan was pleased at that but I think he was worried about what Dad was involved in in his military job. In fact that night he asked would I mind if he slept with me? I didn’t ask why and he didn’t give me a reason but he gave me a hug before turning over and I soon fell asleep.

I wasn’t quite ‘radar-lugs’ over the next couple of days but Jonathan and Mum did a lot of talking together and I heard her say a couple of times ‘It’ll be your decision but you’ll have my support’. Dad had to go to his ‘office’ as he called it both days and did smile the second evening. “All sorted” had been the answer to a question from Mum when he went to the kitchen. Anyway, it would soon be Hogmanay and the Dinner with the Ceilidh after.

That was a wonderful evening. We had to be on parade beforehand as Mum said. Dad, Jonathan and I were all in our Drummond kilts with Dad and Jonathan in their very smart silver-buttoned black jackets and me in my black waistcoat. Grandfather was in his Sinclair trews with a black jacket. Mum and the girls were all in long dresses - the first for my sisters - and each had a Drummond tartan scarf across their shoulders. Jacky and Caroline had been given silver brooches as Christmas presents so matched Mum with the way they had pinned the scarves. Great-Aunt Cassie said the Sinclair tartan was a bit bright for her so she had a dark red scarf with her clan brooch holding it. We all looked very smart. Dad set up his camera on a tripod and took a photo with a time-lapse. I liked that word and it made me grin so at least I looked happy in the photograph.

We had to be at the Conservative Hall by half-past seven as the Dinner started at eight o’clock. I don’t know how many people were there but there were three tables of ten for all the ‘youngsters’ as Jonathan called us. We four were sharing a table with six others and Luke Henderson was with us, but he said that Logan was too young to be there. ‘Special dispensation for eight-year-olds’ was Jonathan’s comment and both Luke and I sneered at him and he laughed. I think Jonathan had been asked to look after our table as when others arrived he introduced us all. Geoffrey and his two sisters, Isobel and Sarah, were on our table so we knew them but the last two were ones I didn’t know. A brother and sister older than me and were called James, like me, and Katie. James wore his kilt like us and his sister was in a shorter dress than Jacky and Caroline but she also had a plaid over her shoulder. I didn’t hear what their other names were and I didn’t like to ask. I expect his kilt was the family tartan so if I could remember the pattern I could look it up in the book in Grandfather’s study. Anyway I sat next to Katie on one side and had Sarah on the other. They were both nice and Katie wanted to know where I went to school and she said her cousins the Lorimer boys went to Kinloch as well. I didn’t say one was a friend of my brother Jonathan and certainly not that the other had written something on the lavatory wall! I just nodded and said the younger brother was in Mr Carstairs’ House same as me. Oh, I saw there were two menu cards on our table and squinted at one. It said ‘Main Course: Venison’ as far as I could see. I don’t think I’d had that before.

I had looked around before we sat down and saw that Simon Fleming and Stuart Barclay were on the next table to us. I gave Stu a ‘thumb’s up’ and he grinned and did the same. Wow, I then saw Watson McPhee was there, too. Two of my room-mates. I knew Grandfather knew a Dr McPhee so perhaps Watson was a relation and might be staying with him. Anyway, I couldn’t find out as there was loud rapping from the top table. It was a man banging on a small wooden board with a wooden hammer. He announced that once all had arrived festivities would begin.

I just sat and listened to the others on the table chatting after I’d answered the girl’s questions. I suppose I could have asked if others had had venison before but I expect as they were older than me they might think it strange if I said I hadn’t. Soon waiters appeared with bowls and spoons and platters of baps. Oh, we were going to start with soup. All was quiet when that appeared and it was good. Sarah said it was Scotch Broth and I’d had that before. When everyone had finished the waiters came and cleared away. As soon as they started on our table Geoffrey stood up and went off, I suppose, to prepare to play the bagpipes for the entry of the chef with whatever we were going to have to eat next. All the chatter began again but it didn’t seem long before the man banged the little hammer again and there was clapping as Geoffrey started playing just outside the room. He marched through the door and looked very smart but I didn’t know the tune he was playing. He was followed by another kilted figure holding a big silver dish in front of him and on this was a big slab of meat. I knew the next man was the chef as he had a big knife and fork and was wearing all-white clothes and a tall white hat.

The big dish was put on a table and the chef carved some slices from the meat. I think that was for show as waiters came in with trolleys and plates were put in front of us and we were all served first with a slice or two of the meat while other waiters had roast tatties, peas, green beans and two other veggies which we were given out as wanted. There was also a sauce boat and a container of some red jelly on the table. I was told it was redcurrant jelly to go with the meat. I had had that with lamb at home so I knew I liked it.

I certainly liked the venison. It did mean a bit of chewing but with the gravy it was very tasty. I had some with the redcurrant jelly and liked it that way as well. My two roast tatties and veggies soon disappeared and I saw a waiter giving Jonathan and Geoffrey, who had joined us again after playing, at least two more tatties each.

I was quite full up but there was still a third course to come. This was a fruit trifle for us ‘young-uns’ as the ‘grown-ups’ had tipsy-laird which I knew had plenty of sherry in it. Mrs Grantly had made that for Mum’s birthday at Easter and I had been given a spoonful of it!

It was a bit boring after that for a while as at least three people gave speeches and we had to keep quiet. It was then time for the Ceilidh, or dance. There were two fiddlers, an accordion player, a big bass and a man with a side drum and a big drum he played with a foot pedal. Almost everybody joined in the reels and I had Katie as a partner when our table were told to join in. I knew how to keep in time with the music as we had learned what to do when I was at Miss Pruitt’s School. Being full of food and dancing like that made me want to burp so I was glad when I only had to do two of those. I saw Mum and Dad dancing together and then had to change partners in the more complicated dances. I think my sisters were enjoying themselves as they never seemed to lack a partner even if some of them seemed rather old. I did get a chance to talk to both Stu and Watson. I found out that Dr McPhee was Watson’s grandfather but he was only staying over one more night before going home to Inverness. Stu said he was spending the rest of the holiday with an aunt and uncle in Stirling and he didn’t seem too pleased about that. He had made a face when he said that and said he was looking forward to being back at school.

About half-past ten Mum came over to us and said it was time for me and my sisters to go home as it was getting late. She did wink at me as she said that. I don’t think Caroline and Jacky were too pleased as they had been dancing with two of the bigger boys on the next table and the next dance was being announced. Great Aunt Cassie took us back in a taxi and said she didn’t mind as she was getting a bit too old to heave herself round the dance-floor. That made us laugh as we had seen her being very energetic in the last reel and was almost lifting her partner, a very small man, off the ground as they twirled around.

Anyway, I was quite tired, but when back in my bedroom I remembered to fold my kilt and waistcoat tidily before putting my pyjamas on. I never heard the others arrive home so was quite surprised when I woke early in the morning to find I had Jonathan in my bed again. He had his arms quite tight round me and, Oh my! he was in all naked again and that thing of his was all stiff and pressing against my back. I didn’t dare move but it felt all nice to have him holding me. I smiled to myself and went off to sleep again.