We slept late that first day of January 2013. No-one seemed to stir much before ten a.m. Tonight we four would be going back to London. I lay and thought of the wonderful time we’d had over just three days. We would rest today. Nothing to visit as all would be closed. Pete was still asleep by my side. I smiled to myself. Last night we didn’t get to bed until about two a.m. We just undressed and, with a kiss, we must have fallen off to sleep. I felt rested. Oh! Blast! Work on Thursday. Sorting out what might have occurred in markets far and wide. I hadn’t had any urgent messages so no immediate crises. I hadn’t yet been told what my bonus might be. We had done some very careful trades and shifted a good few rather large tranches of cash in currency deals and on the whole had come out very much on the positive side. Josef was confident we were ahead of the pack as he put it. Pete’s year had been most successful, he was quietly making a name for himself with the portraits he had been painting.
We were lucky in where we lived. Mary Prothero was almost like a second mother to us and a willing auntie to the lads. Grigor was a bit of a dark horse. We knew he enjoyed what he was doing in the design studio but we saw little or any of his output. He said he had a specific idea he wanted to develop. Something to do with the new-fangled mobile telephones and apps. Apps were ‘applications’ we were told. His soul-mate Didier was progressing. We had been to each of the shows he had appeared in. Minor parts, but that is the way of the world in show business. In a dance sequence with half-a dozen or more it’s a matter of making sure you don’t stick out and it’s a cut-throat world, too. Plenty of young dancers ready to step in. We knew Didier had a special flair. The right opportunity had still to arise. He did have the added ability - that of being a good teacher of the young. Chas had said he was quite amazed at times how he got the youngsters, both boys and girls, to do their very best. We had seen it over the weekend with young Francis.
Then the rest of that new generation. Two others we’d been with over Hogmanay. Ross developing a nous ahead of his age. David III quiet but looking and sounding so much like his father. Their cousins still to make an impact on us. Alistair’s two we had only seen a couple of times and the same for Matthew and Bruce MacFarlane. My mother adored the lot - seven grandchildren. Dad had accepted both Pete as my partner and Danny as Jonathan’s. I assume that Grandfather knowing of his sister’s own choice was acknowledging his grandsons’ own preferences. From that stern martinet I had perceived in my early years he has emerged as someone showing such support and love. How a youngster can misperceive words and actions.
Pete was stirring. He groaned. “That last dram we had here before bed is still rattling round my head.” Dad had unearthed an ancient bottle, unlabelled, from the back of the wine store. He said it was at least a sixty year-old malt. It was smooth, aromatic and decidedly deadly if too much was taken. It would have stuck an ale-conner’s breeches to the ceiling rather than the bench if it had been beer. A wee dram was enough.
“I feel just content,” I said. As he turned and we cuddled I told him about my thoughts. He kissed my cheek and gently he turned head to toe with me and we drew more than a wee dram of our own smooth and quite aromatic distillation. He reversed his position and we kissed, sharing the last drops as we had so many times before. I loved my Pete and I knew he loved me. “Time to get up,” he whispered. The spell was broken but would be a repeated action time after time.
Nic was up and pouring coffee for Miles and Danny. They said it had been a quiet night. Vodka, samshu and arrack must have flowed freely to greet the New Year. Oh? Three areas of possible conflict? They just grinned at each other. Pete and I had a companionable coffee with them and woke up a bit more. Both Miles and Danny commented on Didier’s performance and Nic said he was disappointed he hadn’t seen it. Others meandered in. Mum said my father was still asleep and Grandfather had already had his breakfast and was listening to the radio. I was quite surprised when the three youngsters came in looking for breakfast. They had washed and dressed by themselves and were hungry they said. Where were Uncle Didier and Uncle Grigor? Should they go and wake them? Danny said they were probably very tired, especially Didier after he did the Sword Dance twice. A good move that as I suspected the pair were already awake and most probably celebrating the New Year with their own prolific libations.
So the day progressed. We gave out invites. Nic was due leave at the end of January. He would be accommodated. David was speaking at a conference at Easter. Caroline threatened to come with him and leave the boys at home with a few crusts. They knew Mum/Aunt. Five of them would be staying with us and/or Mary Prothero. Dates were put in diaries and whatever show was on would be visited. We didn’t see Mrs Grantly. Mum said she only came in a couple of times a week now just for a chat and she was actually rather ill. Molly and her sister were taking over her duties more and more and Marilyn, the sister, was a good cook and with her helping it took pressure off Mum.
We said cheerio to the Protheros and Ross after lunch. Each of us was given a big hug and a kiss by Caroline and the three boys. David II shook hands and smiled his enigmatic smile. Over these few days I could see quite a bond developing between Didier and young Francis. “I want to learn to dance,” were his parting words as his mother ushered him out to the car. When it was time for us to go - we had ordered the people-carrier - we said how wonderful a weekend it had been. Laconic Dad agreed and said to Didier and Grigor that Scotland always had a welcome. He pointed to me and Pete as he said it to them, “...And remember, for every Scot who leaves Scotland for England it raises the IQ level of both countries!” An old one but a good one. That reminded me. I hadn’t had a chance to try the ‘Two whales’ on the youngsters. That would keep until Easter. Another boat trip on the Thames.
Our arrival in London on Wednesday meant work loomed. Poor Didier was booked to perform in the dance sequences in the panto even that night. I was due to go into the offices on Thursday and Grigor had a presentation to show to colleagues on Friday. He hadn’t shown us but he had been running through it on his lap-top at odd moments over the weekend. Pete said the January light was murky so he would paint a couple of atmospheric scenes. Building site cranes by the river, I guessed.
So the first month of the year disappeared. Didier had an interview for a long-running musical already on stage. One of the dancers wanted to return to America as his work permit was running out. Didier got the job and that would last really as long as he wanted. Just before Easter Grigor presented this app he’d designed. He explained it was something all teenagers would want, and whatever it was went viral, as we were told the term was. He was inundated with offers to buy the rights to it after it was put out. He refused and I was chosen as the one to lay out the cash which flowed in. He was busy designing and programming at least two more.
The mystery buyer turned up again. Just before Easter the gallery owner ‘phoned Pete. Three more paintings were needed. This time each was to be three feet square. The message said he had been well-satisfied with the previous pictures. The three wanted were ‘Ganymede’ the cupbearer, ‘Antinous’, Hadrian’s toy-boy, and ‘Achilles and Patroclus’ as a pair before Patroclus’s death in Achilles’ arms. All were to be nude, entire and not classical. We had a laugh: ‘entire’ must mean fully laden with foreskins, ‘not classical’ signified plenty of meat and two veg. Who could be models? At least Grigor and Didier were fully equipped. They would be ‘Achilles and Patroclus’. Ethan was chosen to be ‘Ganymede’ but would have an imagined sheathed dick and that left Emory to be ‘Antinous’ whose statues were set up all over the Roman Empire. He was shown a photo of the statue in the museum in Delphi. It showed a more-or-less armless curly-haired handsome lad with a hole where his broken off todger had been and the usual Greek small balls. Well-rounded, but niggardly on such a magnificent statue. Emory’s response was positive. Yes, he would pose just like the lad, but, he would have arms and whatever Joe possessed. When had he seen Joe? Of course, the six of them had been swimming at the pool. All I had seen was the sight of Joe on the treadmill in their second bedroom. He usually pounded away on it in a tiny Speedo which hardly contained his equipment. Joe was also positive. Yes, he would pose just for that to be drawn, then painted, but why not get saggy balls, i.e. Chas, for what a well-formed young Ganymede should look like in the reproductive area? Yes, again! Get set, ready, go!
The backgrounds to each painting had to be carefully chosen as well as any action depicted. Ganymede, as the cupbearer, was holding an amphora ready to pour wine for Zeus. By his side he had a table with a krater and a red-figure pot. Each of the earthenware items had small extra designs with figures such as Dionysus, Eros and Meleager all nude. These weren’t in the remit but the unknown to us purchaser would have a few more lovelies to feast his eyes on even though Dionysus was me and Meleager a self-portrait of Pete himself. Eros’s face was the pizza boy, Paul, who made at least one visit a week and whose ready smile gave out certain hints. Ethan said he knew him from Imperial College. Unfortunately Pete never saw Paul nude but used Didier’s body again. Behind Ganymede was a wall painting of a mountain top with an eagle flying above to represent Zeus. For Antinous the background was a view of the outside of the Pantheon which Hadrian built in Rome. The Roman hills were in the background there as well.
The decision for the scene for ‘Achilles and Patroclus’ took a long time to make. The general depictions of the pair we found on the Internet seemed to be either the tending of his lover’s wounds by Achilles or the carrying of his dead body. Neither of these would have been what the client wanted. Pete posed Didier and Grigor in many positions, standing, lying down, holding each other by the arms and so on. They, of course, played up and made several obscene remarks about what they imaged could have happened and held each other with Grigor behind Didier, his prick visible by Didier’s thigh or with Didier stretched out on the floor with Grigor’s tool draped over his cheek ready to be sucked by those luscious lips. In the end it was almost a re-run of the ‘David and Jonathan’ but with a beaming Achilles having an arm resting on Patroclus’s shoulder and a smiling Patroclus looking out towards the viewer with his mouth half open and a finger on his lower lip. Although their pricks were flaccid there was a hint of plumpness. You could almost see the next scene as the pair were in a marbled room with a bed at the side ready to be occupied. Chas and Joe couldn’t keep their eyes off the painting on its easel when they came to supper the night it was finished. Didier and Grigor were there, too, and kept teasing the older pair by suddenly taking up the pose with Grigor murmuring “Later”. We guessed that Joe and Chas’s bed that night would be rocking!
That year passed quietly and quickly. Our group grew closer as Chas and Joe, though older, joined in more for dinners and then chat. Their dance studio enterprise was expanding. They now employed two full-time instructors, plus a fully qualified physiotherapist. Didier went as often as he could to deal with the classes for the youngsters. They said he had a special rapport with them, whether they were girls or boys, and the numbers there were increasing. Although he would have liked to spend more time at the dance studio Didier always tried to do more matinées than evening performances which worked well as he then had more evenings to be with Grigor. With his design work for the animated films bringing in a steady income now Grigor’s coffers swelled even more with the revenue from two more apps. He really didn’t need the money as the interest from investments I had made on his behalf, plus the cash his father passed to him every time they met, was more than he ever wanted to spend. Spend he did, his clothes were chosen carefully, not to be too trendy but to make him stand out in a crowd. I did rearrange some of his investments for longer-term prospects which suited him well. As Didier was more often in sweats and comfortable footwear his tailoring bills were much less but whenever we went on an evening out he was also impeccable. Our evenings out, usually with Grigor’s parents or just the lads, were generally for the opera or the ballet at Covent Garden but concerts at the Festival Hall were also attended. Pete and I also went to the National Theatre fairly often though the lads were not so interested in plays. As none of us had learned to drive, other than Emory, our taxi bills were horrendous. But as Pete said a couple of cars, depreciation and upkeep, plus the Congestion Charge, would cost as much over time. Living in London with everything we needed on one’s doorstep was the bonus.
I collected four more clients and did quite well with my New Year and Summer bonuses. I discussed things with Becky and put the quite substantial sums into property - flats in a couple of London developments. Pete and I were named as co-owners and the forty-five thousand pounds he got for the three paintings went into the pot - minus, of course, what the Inland Revenue demanded. The lads wanted no money for posing, just a portrait of each, head and shoulders. The two dicks, I mean the fully-fashioned phallus bearers, Chas and Joe, laughed and Joe said they would like a couple of sketches of their mighty organs so they could see in their old age what had risen, like the organs in the old picture palaces, to be played twice nightly. “Only twice?” from Pete was met with ‘Mustn’t boast’ from the pair in chorus. Pete found a couple of pictures of Greek bronze statues of muscular athletes which were copied with the faces changed and the appropriate lengths and ample orbs were displayed instead of the rather small assets of the originals.
I reorganised two of my clients’ portfolios where previous advisers had put hefty holdings into High Street stores. In one of our general discussions in the office, where we got together at least once a week to discuss trends, Becky and one of the other ladies, Fiona, mentioned that more and more people, i.e. lady shoppers, were visiting stores looking at articles, pricing them and then finding them on-line cheaper and having them delivered. Two of our computer whizzes said the same. They had set up their Mums with quick links on their iPads to stores and then to the on-line suppliers. We heard through another contact that one board of directors was getting worried about lack of footfall and were ready to bail out and get rid of a number of their stores. Portfolios were adjusted and over the next couple of years our fears were justified. Our clients were happy which was the main point.
I think our visitors were happy as well. The trio of Ross, David III and Francis spent a fortnight of their summer holidays staying downstairs with Mary Prothero but being taken out each day by pairs of us, whoever was available. ‘Two whales’ was met by David saying “We’ve heard it before!” Young Francis was over the moon as Didier took him to the dance studio and he was kitted out with a young boy’s dance belt, tights, dance shoes and a wide sleeved top. He had already been to dance classes at a studio near their home on the outskirts of Edinburgh but we wondered what would happen when he joined Kinloch in September where both his brother David and his cousins Ross Drummond and Matthew MacFarlane were already pupils. Would he be able to deal with his wish to dance with all the other things he would be required to do? Ross and David had made it perfectly clear, he would not miss out. Actually, we heard that Mrs Francis and Mrs McWilliam, would be setting up a Scottish ‘heel and toe’ dancing group as many of the boys in the school felt they were out of things when at home and they were involved in family or other gatherings but couldn’t join in the dances. As we well knew adolescent boys are not the most co-ordinated of creatures with newly grown arms and legs flailing around their developing trunks so the ladies would have plenty to do. That would also give Francis one outlet for his desires.
At the beginning of September the security advisers decided that Grigor was quite safe. He was issued with a British passport after an interview somewhere in Whitehall. It was not in his original name, but ‘Gregory Something’ will do, so he was now under the full protection of Her Majesty and her Government. Six of us, tried it out by a simple trip to Paris by Eurostar for a long week-end at the end of that month. We met Grand-Maman who at nearly eighty still had the figure and carriage of the ballet dancer she had been in her youth. Grigor was an immediate new grandson and he paid for all of us, plus Grand-Maman to have dinner at the Tour d’Argent. How he swung the reservations we never found out but it was a memorable evening. We knew something was planned as all of us had been instructed to pack our evening clothes. Grand-Maman was escorted in with her two grandsons on her left and right followed by Emory and Ethan, with two Scottish Highlanders bringing up the rear.
Paris is always a delight. Not only did we dine in that fine restaurant but on two evenings we took a bateau mouche evening trip with dinner on board on the Seine. The rest of the time, at least for Pete and me, was the usual round of gazing at works of art in the Louvre and other galleries and resting our feet listening to organists practising their improvisations in cavernous churches as a knowledgeable Emory told us. We hadn’t realised one of his accomplishments was as an organist and he had taken a diploma in organ-playing during his student years. Grigor said playing one of those monsters was something he would love to do. Another link for the pair as on our return Grigor not only lent Emory his electric keyboard whenever he wanted to practise but was introduced to the organist of a big church in Fulham where Emory played most Sundays as his deputy.
So 2013 disappeared from view with a couple of announcements which would affect the finances and futures of many. There were the American presidential elections to come in 2016 as well as the clamour for a referendum over Britain’s place in Europe. Already Scotland had said it didn’t want to split from the United Kingdom but careful thought would have to be placed on this greater decision and the possible outcome, stay or leave. Within our own circle in Josef’s realm both he and Becky said they would retire in March 2016. That would give time for the rest of us to decide what was to become of the firm. It took only two meetings to decide we would continue with Gerald, one of the older partners, as Chairman, and Felicity as co-Chairman (very non-PC) and two new incomers would be sought to make up the numbers. As a relative newcomer I would have to wait another year to put in a substantial sum and become a partner. I think I was doing pretty well to have got on the ladder in such a fine firm at my age.
We managed as usual to make the journey to Scotland for the two festivals at the end of 2013. All four of the lads travelled with us. Didier was able to come as he had been selected for a new musical which was being staged in the West End just before Easter with a pre-run tryout in a theatre in Brighton. This meant he had withdrawn from the current show he was in. This was a pity in one way as he had made a couple of good friends in the dance troupe but, as he said, doing the same thing again and again did lead to a certain monotony which could affect one’s concentration. Emory and Ethan were at a loose end over the holiday period. Emory was due a full month’s leave from the archaeology group and he wanted to write a couple of papers on some of the finds from the digs. He wouldn’t mind also getting away somewhere. Ethan would be on vacation from his Civil Engineering course at Imperial College. Sorted. All of us would go and plague Pete and my families. Families?
There was a general invitation for all of the others to meet Pete’s family. The house they lived in had at least ten bedrooms, most unused but could be dusted and warmed as Pete said, so no problems over accommodation. In Edinburgh one of the flats in the house next door was empty awaiting new tenants so with others visiting for Hogmanay there would be enough room. The others would be not only the Protheros and Ross but my other sister, Jacky, plus husband and two sons. There would probably be quiet mayhem but we would all cope.
We travelled up by night sleeper to Edinburgh on the Sunday and then spent a good part of Monday on the train via Glasgow to Oban where Mr Douglas picked us up in the ubiquitous Landrover needed for travelling on roads in the Highlands. The usual welcome - a dram plus food - however, we found that Pete’s sisters and their families wouldn’t be around as they were coming up for Hogmanay as they had too many pre-Christmas activities to attend down South. Not to worry we had a marvellous time.
On Tuesday as we recovered from the journey we found that Mr and Mrs Douglas wanted to set up trusts for Pete and his sisters as there were a good few acres of land to be divided. Pete was rather amazed with the extent of the holdings as his father had never before divulged what land he owned. It had come down in the family and Pete’s great-grandfather had increased the acreage after the First World War when the Depression hit and other landowners were glad of the money. Where he got his money was never known until Mr Douglas found a couple of old documents which showed that it must have come from a predecessor of some sort who had emigrated to America and made a killing when oil was discovered in his backyard, as it were! I suggested Mr Douglas got in touch with Uncle Hamish or my cousin Alistair in Perth as they, being lawyers, would know the ins and outs of trust law. “Keep it in the family, eh? Might get a discount,” a canny Mr Douglas retorted.
Didier was always surprised at the vast open spaces with hills and mountains in view as was most apparent on the rather tedious train journey from Edinburgh. Having been born and brought up in Paris he was not used to the distances between places. As we pointed out Scottish miles always seemed longer than English ones and certainly were greater than the kilometres he was used to. Grigor said distances in Russia were immense. A train journey across his native country would take days rather than hours. Naturally, Emory and Ethan chimed in with the information that the British Isles would fit easily in about a dozen different States in America. Pete was not fazed by that. “Don’t forget it wasn’t long ago when it could be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire!” Grigor didn’t understand that until Mr Douglas found an old school atlas and showed him all the pink bits which were distributed all over the world at the time. “Our History and Geography at school did not discuss that,” he said shaking his head. “I have learned so many new things since leaving that country.”
We celebrated most of Christmas just with Mr and Mrs Douglas. However, our Christmas lunch of venison was heralded by a piper. He was the younger son of Mr Douglas’s factor. Mr Mackenzie, the factor, his wife and his family of two sons and daughter joined us for that day’s festivities. Smart suits around for the men, only Dougal the piper son was kilted. He was a student at university and was studying Forestry and Land Management with a view to either helping his father or working for the Forestry Commission. The elder son, Fergal, was a finance officer in local government. The sister, Jessica, in-between in age, assisted her mother in the general store she ran in the village. One topic of conversation was the lack of jobs in the area and so many of the young people, here Pete was looked at, were leaving the area for the bigger towns and even for England or abroad. Emory said he had known two boys at school in Baltimore when he was in third grade whose ancestors had been Scottish and there was rivalry between them as their names were associated with old feuds. Mr Douglas said he had relatives on one line in Canada and on another in New Zealand. The forebears had emigrated because of the hard times in Scotland in the late seventeen hundreds and early eighteen hundreds. Pete said he needed to know more about his family history. Mr Douglas laughed. “Take a look at some of the pictures in our so-called gallery and you’ll see the Douglas snout and chin over generations. I’ve got them and so have you.”
The gallery was a long passage on the first floor with bedrooms and bathrooms going off it. I had looked at several of the portraits and saw that the Douglas’s had a history of soldiers and divines as well as prosperous looking landowners. Who had the hardships? There were few of ladies though I had noticed two of stern-looking matriarchs. There were also photographs of more recent ancestors, Pete’s grandfather and his brothers and sisters and a couple of older ones taken in the late eighteen-hundreds. Pete said he would add to the collection by providing portraits of his father and mother and the rest of the current family. “Nothing Picasso-like,” his father said, “I don’t wish to be blue with a hole in my head!”
Although there was snow around Mr McKenzie took the six of us out in the Landrover on Boxing Day so the lads could get a closer look at a loch and a mountain. The trail up was impassable so we sat huddled in overcoats drinking coffee from thermos flasks and eating thinly sliced venison and pickle baps while Grigor took a host of photographs which he said he would use as background for some computer game he was helping to design and develop. No, we were told, there wasn’t a monster in that particular loch.
We think Emory was much taken with Jessica who was quite vivacious and, of all things, had studied Physics and Astronomy at university. “All just out of interest,” she had said, “But I’ve got a good telescope and still squint up quite regularly”. We got the impression a certain rapport was developing in even that short time between the pair. She wanted to know all about his archaeological work on the pits and the other areas. He said he’d love to peer at Orion’s Belt or Cassiopeia which he’d heard about but had never realised until recently how insignificant we were in relation to the number of stars and the distances involved. Pete and I thought that the distance between London and Scotland might be traversed quite often in the future.
We had to make the reverse journey to get to Edinburgh for Hogmanay which we did on the Saturday. A great welcome again. Miles was on leave over the New Year so his bedroom and sitting-room next to the one occupied by Danny and Jonathan was allocated to Emory and Ethan. Oh, another double-bed! Didier and Grigor were again accommodated in Jonathan’s old room and Pete and I shared my room under the watchful eyes of Mr Lion. To make sure all would be properly attired for the Dinner and Ceilidh Mum had been informed of all Emory’s and Ethan’s measurements needed to hire their jackets and kilts. These would be available on Monday the thirtieth for fitting at the shop. Naturally a few ribald comments were in order and the old chestnut about the mirror was heard again.
I was very shocked when I saw Grandfather. He had lost weight and was now very thin and kept to his room most of the time listening to the mainly classical music programme, Radio 3. What was good was that Geoffrey sent him details of all the programmes as he was now a regular producer on that station. Mum said Grandfather had a male nurse coming in twice a day to deal with problems. I wondered how long he would be with us. Another one really under the weather was Mrs Grantly. She still managed to come in a couple of times a week, mainly for a chat and to keep Jonathan in order, so she said, but she wasn’t her old, bustling self.
The Protheros, plus Ross arrived on Sunday morning. Even since the summer the three boys seemed to have grown. Ross was now almost twelve and was the image of Jonathan in the school photographs of him at the same age. Jonathan had told us that Patricia had at last got married, was leaving the Army, and as her husband was Australian they would be off to there at Easter. No mention had been made of Ross in the curt message Jonathan had received. Jonathan said that Ross never asked after his mother and was more than content with our sister, Caroline, being his surrogate Mum. In fact, he now called her that. David was very like the older David, his father. Studious and very precise. He had taken up hockey as his game so he and Pete had numerous chats about tactics. He said that he would do fencing as well when he got to Big School.
Young Francis was delighted to see Didier again. More dance needed. We had hardly finished lunch when he was off and came back downstairs all kitted out in his dance clothes. Didier expecting this to happen had also packed his outfit as well so with Grigor playing the piano, while Mum rested her eyes as she said, the trio entertained us until teatime. Whoever had given Francis instruction over the past year had done an excellent job. At seven and three-quarters he had the poise and balance of someone much older. He had learned several short routines and Didier was able to match them and extend them a bit and the smiles they exchanged showed a great rapport between them even with the difference in ages. Later that night Didier told us adults that he thought that if Francis could progress further, as he had done so far, he would have the makings of a fine dancer. He had joined his brother and cousins at Kinloch just a bit earlier than usual but was enjoying it. No doubt, the older ones kept a watchful eye on him.
On Monday Mum and Caroline went with the three young’uns and the two oldies to get their Highland dress for the Hogmanay celebrations the next evening. Francis, this year, had decided he would wear the kilt, Drummond of course, and on their return from the hirers, all five were still in their finery with the two older lads in Royal Stewart. None of them would change back to trousers or shorts but Mum decreed that good white shirts should be replaced by some other top. I doubt if any Scot has been seen in the kilt plus a Chelsea football club top - given to Ethan by Sarg One who had said he had never understood American football and all the armour they wore, it wasn’t the Trojan War surely? A rather unusual simile perhaps! As both Emory and Ethan had left America before they were teenagers neither understood it either.
That afternoon the MacFarlanes arrived. I hadn’t seen Marty or the boys for over a year though my sister, Jacky, had made two fleeting visits for attendance at fashion shows. We had received photos attached to e-mails so I wasn’t surprised with the pair of young toughies who came bounding in and then stood open-mouthed at the sight of their three cousins and two strangers all in some semblance of Highland dress. At least they had the kilt, sporran and long socks but the five tops ranged from the Chelsea one, a plain polo shirt. two Kinloch rugger shirts and the dancer’s tee-shirt with a red London bus emblazoned on it. After hugs and/or kisses Marty and Jacky went off to unload the car and take stuff next door where they would be bedding down. Matthew and Bruce went with them but were soon back with a backpack each and Matthew carrying two small suitcases. “We’ll share with Ross and the others,” Matthew announced. Oh, my God! Five in one room! “And I’m hungry,” Bruce, the youngest of the tribe coming up to seven, called out as Ross led all five upstairs. Ten minutes later five kilted warriors appeared. Two more tee-shirts, one with an unfinished noughts and crosses game printed on it and the other a pink elephant.
Mum pointed to the kitchen and breakfast room. Food! Grigor and Didier followed the young ones. All was quiet for twenty minutes after that. Pete and I held back but took a piece of cake and a mug of tea into my Grandfather. We described the apparel of the group. He was amused that the Americans were almost properly attired. He said he wanted to see all his great-grandsons, but not all at once. He thanked us for the food and drink and said his nurse would be with him all the time we were out the next night. At least he could still play chess and the nurse was a good player.
Jacky and Marty came back from next door and said they weren’t surprised over the boys’ decision to bunk in with their three cousins. “We brought two airbeds because we thought that would happen,” Jacky said. They said the flat next door looked most comfortable and Mum had said there wouldn’t be any trouble letting it out. Marty and Jacky had also put some money into property but the running costs of the three gyms they and the others had were quite high. Jacky’s fashion business was running quite smoothly she averred, just having some designs made a little larger to accommodate certain clients. “We’re not in the same league as you dear brother, or any of your clients,” Jacky said and gave me a playful slap on the arm.
I must say that well-fed youngsters are more than well-behaved. That is until Francis lifted his kilt to show he had a dance belt on underneath and not the white undies the others were wearing. No it was a perfectly simple action, no Mrs McIver-type naughtiness. Matthew and Bruce wanted to know what it was and a slight repeat of the previous afternoon’s performance took place. Pete remarked that seeing Francis doing a stately waltz in kilt, socks and dance pumps reminded him of the performance of La Sylphide we’d seen at Covent Garden in May last year. The male dancers all clad in their kilts of strange tartans. Francis wasn’t yet at the stage of being able to do the flying leaps that James the hero did with his kilt swirling around him. We had wondered if the front row, or the conductor, got a full view of underneath. As soon as Francis had finished two more wanted instruction. Francis was now the teacher. He explained very clearly how he had to follow the steps exactly. Matthew and Bruce quite unselfconsciously followed his lead. Ten minutes later three in a row did the steps as Grigor played. I think it took a lot of willpower on Ross’s and David’s parts not to join in. This was Francis’s moment and we could see the pride they had in him. Marty said later that they also ran special yoga classes at the gyms and one of the teachers had been a ballet dancer and she was more than fit even though in her late forties. Perhaps a class for Scottish dancing though he knew there was a thriving ‘Heel and Toe’ group in a neighbouring town.
The sprogs were sent off to the bedroom not long after we finished the evening meal. Ross had some sort of GameBoy device which he’d attached to the laptop in the bedroom so the three older ones were taking it in turns to kill off as many aliens as possible. The two youngest, so Jacky said had gone straight to bed but not before Bruce, her youngest, had borrowed a spare dance belt from Francis and said he would wear it tomorrow.
We oldies sat and chatted and I heard Grigor asking Marty about the gyms he and Graham his brother ran. He was interested as they seemed to be getting very popular with many teens and twenties working-out and he enjoyed the one we went to in Fulham. Marty said it was true because they were fashionable but so many people, especially the older ones, took out a subscription, attended a few times and found it was more difficult to get fit than they thought and disappeared from view. One way to keep people interested, and getting income, was putting on yoga classes or martial arts courses. Marty hadn’t heard Didier’s story about vanquishing the thugs and said he could use something like that in his publicity - would he write him something? Pete was telling Jacky about his mystery buyer and I heard him saying the envelope for the last banker’s draft was probably postmarked Luton or thereabouts. Who the buyer was he didn’t know. He said he had a steady stream of work through the dealer he dealt with and he also had two more book illustrations to do for the Bloomsbury firm.
Emory had Mum, Dad, Caroline and David listening to his tales about how archaeologists worked. It wasn’t just scraping away layers of soil but recognising what might be important in tracing out the buried history of London. He had some photos on his iPhone of a particular place where he had spotted a small hump just off where the main scraping was taking place. He investigated it and it turned out to be the remains of a small leather bag which must have been a pocket on a belt. The thong at the top still showed it had been cut with a sharp knife and not just lost.. He thought it was done by a thief who had dropped it in the drain which ran along the middle of the road. It must have sunk into all the horseshit and dirt and wasn’t retrieved. The bag held six old coins which dated it to the late fifteen hundreds and this tallied with other finds from the same drainage channel. He said many of the most interesting finds came from middens and old rubbish heaps. Caroline was most interested in all this as she taught History in the girls’ school near where they lived. Would Emory be willing to come up to Edinburgh sometime and give a talk? All costs and accommodation would be found. He said he would have to clear it with the head of the unit he worked for but it would be good publicity. It was getting late so Dad brought out a more recent malt for the usual nightcap dram. No throbbing heads in the morning!
The thirty-first of December dawned. Hogmanay. The youngsters had to be kept entertained in the morning which wasn’t too difficult as all five practised the steps and movements for a reel and Emory and Ethan also had to be introduced to the seeming intricacies of handing on and returning. Didier was not repeating his solo performance as Mum had heard that the four girl’s- team winners of one of this year’s Highland Gatherings would do their dance, the grandmother of two of the team was on the Committee. Enough said! The usual rest was decreed for the afternoon and silence reigned for a couple of hours. Everyone assembled about four o’clock for afternoon tea. Mrs Grantly had made a special batch of scones much to Grigor’s delight and a discussion then ensued about the proper pronunciation of the word, ‘sc-own’ or ‘scon’ and all had seen the Royal Stone of Scone, pronounced ‘Scooon’ in Edinburgh Castle. Grigor said English must be the hardest language to learn. He’d already learned the difference between ‘dough’, ‘tough’, ‘cough’, ‘plough’ and, almost the same spelling, ‘youth’. Dad wrote down ‘ghoti’ and asked him to pronounce it. ‘Goaty’ was his effort. Dad said it was ‘fish’. I think Grigor and Didier nearly collapsed.
While we were having afternoon tea Nic Murdoch turned up with a fellow officer, Travis Underwood, and they would be on duty for the evening. Travis was Scots Guards and had been recently assigned to the Princes Street hub. He was quite stocky but what really stood out was his close-cropped red hair. He was from a Lowland Scottish family so this had to be explained to the lads. “Best to keep out of any arguments about who is best,” said Marty. As had been explained to Emory, the Scots flourished on feuds.
It was then time to change and get ready for the evening. Caroline and Jacky sorted out the quintet as even young Bruce would be in attendance. Nic and Travis said they would keep an eye on them while the parents etc. got ready themselves. Pete and I helped each other to get kilts straight, hems at mid knee, sporrans just so and that our black ties were properly tied. The four lads were immaculate and only Dad in a well-worn black jacket was less than tidy according to Mum. She just got a shrug of the shoulders. All the ladies looked exquisite and all would be belles of the ball according to an obsequious Marty giving an almost old-fashioned courtier’s low bow. He got a slap for that, not from his wife but from my sister Caroline. All were ready at six-fortyfive for the customary photo. As usual a fleet of taxis would be needed. There would be nineteen of us attending as all five of the young-uns were going as well. Ross was put in charge of the allocation of the five but decided to assign us all. Young Francis and Bruce would be with Didier, Grigor and Uncle Danny. He would be with, Ethan, Emory, Uncle Peter and Jacky. I was assigned to be with my brother Jonathan together with Marty and the older David. We could all help his father with getting in and out of the taxi. That left young David and Matthew who would be in the fourth taxi with his grandparents and my sister Caroline.
Luckily it all worked and we arrived safe and sound at the Conservative Hall. The table placements worked as well. Jonathan and Danny went off to the usual military table. The five were shunted off to a table of ten youngsters and I saw that Ross was put in charge of that. The six parents, Mum, Dad, Caroline, David, Jacky and Marty were together with six unknowns - to me but not to them. That left us and the four lads which worked well as we had a nice assortment of six ladies including Julian’s sister and Mary Finch to complete our table. No Geoffrey or Julian as Geoffrey was busy at the BBC in London. We heard that Julian was now at one of the newer universities in London lecturing in Mathematics.
I had looked at the menu card as soon as we sat down. We would be having Aberdeen Angus beef. It even gave the name of the herd and its location but not the name of the beast which Mary said was a pity, was it Buttercup or Bluebell, or even Hercules? Ethan who was on her other side said it was probably a steer as there were plenty on the ranch he’d stayed at as a young kid in America and they were being fattened up ready for the market. He then got a bit flustered because he started to say what a steer was. He did manage to say they had an operation when very young to quieten them down. Not quite saying that they were de-balled bulls. Mary was on the ball as she said she wondered if the same operation might make a few of her noisier pupils more docile. “...And I do teach Biology in a boys’ school.” Ethan relaxed after that.
This year the Chairman went on for some time about ‘departed friends’ but at long last he banged his gavel and announced that the soup course would appear. Back to cock-a-leekie and Mary explained to Ethan why it was called that and I detected she did emphasise the word ‘cock’ each time she said it. There was a slight pause when the course was over and the bowls and spoons were taken away. The gavel was banged and the same young piper from last year marched in followed by the chef assistant with a large lump of beef on the silver charger. “That poor boy, deprived of the joys of life, eh?” Mary said. I thought I’d better get Ethan off the hook.
“And you’d advocate the same for some of the lads you teach?”
“What do you mean? A haunch of naughty Barry Hines or a leg of Jason O’Greeley who’s perpetually in detention? No neither of them, too skinny though the chop might keep some of the local girls out of trouble.”
She grinned at me and winked and Ethan wouldn’t be teased for the rest of the evening. He did agree it was probably the best beef he’d tasted and didn’t refuse a third refill of his wine glass.
Once the pudding course was finished and the coffee was served the tables were taken away and the floor cleared ready for the Ceilidh to begin. Both Emory and Ethan said they had been taught basic steps for the reel and for the strathspey by the very knowledgeable pair of Didier and Chas. I think Ethan was a bit relieved when Mary went for the first dance with Emory. I and Julian’s sister were partnered for that opening reel though we did the rounds with other partners for the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant. After a much quieter Valeta back with Mary and we were sitting out I found she had taken her degree at the same university as Jessica McKenzie and knew her quite well. “Emory told me about your visit and I let on I knew Jessica.” she grinned. “He blushed!” No more needed to be said.
I think we were all glad of the respite for the two interludes where the four girls showed off their skills in their Highland dancing routines. I think grandmother would be well-pleased and I remembered Jonathan’s crack about the rosettes and the heifers. No heifers in that quartet, just very dainty hoofers! It was at the end of the first set they did that Ross and the others came over to say cheerio as they would be off home with Mrs Donaldson. “Mum...,” meaning my sister Caroline, “...said I could stay, but I think I’ll go back with the others in case they’re lonely.” He got a thump from his cousin David III for that.
When we arrived back at the house well after midnight we had a rather upsetting surprise. Grandfather had felt very faint when he was being got ready for bed and the doctor on duty had been called. He had said he would call back once he’d dealt with another patient. Grandfather was asleep now so the male nurse, Tony, said. “It’s his heart,” he explained. Mum said she knew it was failing and thanked Tony who would stay on and bed down in Grandfather’s sitting-room. Dad had just poured a good-night dram when the doctor arrived back. Pete and I met our old friend Fergus McIntyre for the first time since leaving Kinloch. We were so pleased to meet each other again but he had some rather disturbing news. He went with Mum and Dad into the old study by the front door. We heard later that Grandfather’s heart was very unsteady and there was a possibility that his pancreas was also giving up. A decision would have to be made. He needed full-time care, preferably in a hospice as he had complained of pain tonight as well. Fergus gave both Pete and me a hug as we said goodnight, rather, good morning. We promised to see him when we visited again.
Pete and I would be returning to London with Didier and Grigor on the third of January though Emory and Ethan would be staying on and travelling back on the night train on the seventh to get back to work and to college. The Prothero’s with Ross would be leaving later today and the MacFarlane’s the next day to reduce any disturbance in the house. I could see Mum was upset, she needed her family around her but Grandfather needed quiet and rest. Dad and Jonathan would be with her and she looked on Danny as another son. Miles would be back at the weekend to his post as Danny’s right-hand man and she could count on Marilyn and Molly, her cook and cleaning staff, to keep things going smoothly on the domestic front.
The young boys were kept amused until it was time for the Prothero household to go. Ross said he hoped we would invite him and the others to come down to London as they wanted to visit Emory’s dig and see all the skeletons. Kids are morbid! No, I think Emory and his stories had sparked off an interest in history. Didier got a special hug from Francis who said he would practise even harder even though he liked touch rugby as well. We four took the two young MacFarlane’s up to the Castle which held an abiding interest for all of us. Dad drove us there but we had to return all the hired kilts and sporrans first. I think the young lads were disappointed they couldn’t keep theirs but Marty had said growing boys would need new kilts at the same rate as other clothes. As Matthew had complained his shoes were getting tight he got the message.
Emory didn’t let on until we were saying good bye before going to Waverley for our train that Jessica was visiting an aunt in Hermiston just outside Edinburgh for the weekend. She was driving herself down and they were planning to meet up. How was this all arranged. He just waved his iPhone at us. “Modern technology,” he said. And what about Ethan we asked? “He can watch and learn.” Ethan gave him the finger. A most rude gesture!
We arrived back safe and sound but feeling rather worried about Grandfather. I had plenty to do on my return to the office as there was a pile of printouts to be looked at carefully. Another crisis on the American front. The impending election in 2016 was already causing waves. In or out was the question for investments? It was decided we should wait though we knew vast amounts of money were flowing. Pete had some good news. There was a letter waiting for him with the offer of two more mornings teaching at the School of Art. He enjoyed that so accepted. Grigor was busy, too. The design studio had won a contract to provide full advertising material for a well-known chain of boutiques and he would be on the television ads team. Didier had rehearsals to attend for the new musical. What we didn’t know was that this would be a breakthrough for him and a change of direction in his career.
After two days of rehearsals on the Monday and Tuesday he came back to the flats very dejected. That night we were providing dinner for the others. He was all for throwing the whole thing in. The choreography even for the opening number was badly planned and this was not only his opinion but also that of most of the other dancers, several much more experienced than him. In fact, that afternoon there had been a standing row between the choreographer and the music director over tempi, not enough music to carry what the man wanted, and, as far as he was concerned, where did they get such a bunch of useless bandy-legged, misbegotten punks who couldn’t follow simple directions. The producer was called from the cast rehearsal and within minutes the dancers had been told to go home and they would be called when things were settled. The problem as Didier saw it was that the choreographer had other shows to his name which were good, but he was trying to get the impossible with the moves and routines he wanted. “I think he was drunk as well,” was Didier’s opinion.
He had a text message later to say he should turn up in the morning to hear what was happening. There was another row and the choreographer stalked out saying he would spread the word that the whole thing was shit! Most of the girls were in tears. The boys were mutinous. This was their professional life apparently going up in flames. The producer said things would have to change. Give him and the director the weekend to try to heal the rift. Didier had other ideas. He had listened carefully as the music director had played through the opening number and a couple of the others where the dancers would be involved. Without telling anybody he had ‘borrowed’ a copy of the piano score which had been left behind. Even that afternoon he had blocked out almost all the moves which would fit the whole of the opening number which was a whole-scale extravaganza involving not only the dancers but the chorus and actors as well. Grigor didn’t go to work the next day. He played as Didier worked further on the opening and also what might fit two of the numbers which came next. On Friday morning Didier phoned the producer and the music director. They agreed to meet him that afternoon. He must have been very persuasive, or more likely, they recognised his genius. The choreographer got nowhere with his tales and over the next three weeks Didier’s ideas grew and rehearsals went ahead, no rows, just adjustments, and Didier’s name was now in place of the much more well-known choreographer.
We all went to the opening night in the Brighton tryout. We were overwhelmed with the colour and the spectacle and the way in which each of the numbers just flowed with the story. The newspaper critics were almost unanimous in their praise. They complained more about one spoken scene which needed attention as the story flagged there in their opinion. The dancing was praised and Didier’s name appeared in each of the papers with the comment in one that a new young talent had emerged. The old choreographer went back to America and lived off his memories we assumed. That breakthrough meant that the show is still running after two years and Didier has earned a substantial amount from royalties and has two other commissions for smaller scale works for dance companies who are always on the lookout for new works.
The end for Grandfather came just after Easter. He had been in the hospice for full-time care soon after we left in the New Year. Mum said the end was quiet, no pain, just that his heart gave up. Pete and I flew up for the funeral which was held in the Episcopal Cathedral. The whole judiciary was there as well as politicians and other worthies as he had been a most esteemed Judge. I was quite amazed at the depth of feeling which came through in the two eulogies, one from a fellow judge and the other a politician from a party Grandfather would never have voted for. He had been a wise and, in the true sense of the word, a judicious man. Mum said afterwards that she had been approached by two people outside after the service while we were waiting for transport to the cemetery for the burial. One had been the wife of an old lag and the other was a man who had served time. What we didn’t know was that Grandfather was a leading light in prison reform and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The lady said her husband was at home but had sent her to the funeral because of the kindness he had received after leaving prison. The man had said the same and he was sure the job he had wouldn’t have been his if it hadn’t been for a recommendation from the Judge. We heard later they weren’t the only ones who had been in the assembled crowd when the coffin was brought out of the cathedral. I had noted at least three men who had bowed their heads as the coffin passed. Of course, Conor Fawcett and his brother wouldn’t be out for a long time yet!
Grandfather’s Will was a revelation. The house, as expected, passed jointly to Mum and Auntie Vanessa. Each of his grandchildren got ten thousand pounds with the great-grandchildren getting an immediate two thousand pounds and their school fees guaranteed until the age of eighteen. He hadn’t forgotten husbands and partners who received two thousand pounds each. Even Geoffrey and others hadn’t been forgotten either. A thousand pounds each in memory. The residue was then put in trust for the whole family with Dad and Uncle Hamish as Trustees with income to be disbursed for any perceived needs. I was given the task of reviewing his holdings and found he had been well-advised and suggested no changes at the present.
Two announcements came in the Summer. Mr and Mrs Cartwright had exhausted their desires for more cruises. Having been round the world at least three times they were going to be landlubbers and retire to their house in Provence and plague the life out of their son as the place would need doing up. They were sure Britain wouldn’t be leaving the Common Market and it was cheaper anyway living in France. We were all invited to stay anytime. However, this meant a possible upheaval in the flats. All was well. Jennifer, Emory and Ethan’s mother, was fed up with the cost of keeping a Grade II historic building in repair. It was put on the market and to everyone’s surprise was snapped up for the asking price within two months so she took over the tenancy of the flat below us and Emory and Ethan breathed sighs of relief.
The other announcement was that Jessica had decided to do a higher degree in Astronomy and had been accepted at University College in Bloomsbury to do it. Where was she to live? The flat below had four bedrooms. Three were occupied and the fourth vacant. Jessica could move in in September. Another announcement came in December. No, she wasn’t pregnant but Emory had been on his knees and asked her to become his wife. We all approved. The fourth bedroom became empty again, with mother’s approval. Emory was a happy bunny doing what all bunnies do and was even happier as he had two papers accepted for publication, one on the cut-purse and the other on the rather gruesome finding of a female skeleton and two children’s remains beside her. Not in the plague pit but most probably a murder of all three and a clandestine burial as each had a bashed in head and she still had a ring on one of her bony fingers. Dated to about 1790 from other evidence around. Who dun-it? Old news-sheets were scanned but no missing persons were being looked for. These publications meant his position in the team was now quite secure and a bit more money flowed from the developers who didn’t want to be seen to be destroying whatever might be lying below present ground level.
As usual we did the trek up to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay at the end of 2014. Didier and Grigor came with us but Emory and Ethan went with Jessica to Provence where she was inspected and approved of by the others of their family. At Pete’s parents’ for Christmas the McKenzies were again there for Christmas Dinner. Jessica’s brothers wanted to know whether their sister was being treated properly. Mr McKenzie retorted that his daughter would have made her own mind up and, from what he’d seen of Emory, he and Mrs McKenzie approved. Fergal told us privately that his sister had said she and Emory were being very careful and they would probably marry once she had obtained the further degree. It depended whether it would be at the end of one year for a MSc or two years if she went on to PhD. Was Emory willing to wait? I think we reassured him from our own observations of the pair.
We also inspected the new paintings in the gallery. Pete had done them one by one since last New Year. His mother and father, his sisters and families, even himself. They had been despatched during the autumn in two batches by the carriers the gallery used. Each had been on show there for three weeks and the gallery passed on three commissions for portraits to be done. One of those entailed a visit to a rather grand house where a Holbein was already on display! Pete was most amused as on his final visit in the Summer the sixteen-year-old son of the house was home from Eton. The lad, an Honourable as father had the appropriate title, had leafed through the sketchbooks and photos which Pete invariably had with him and had beetled off without a backward glance after staring at ‘David and Jonathan’ and then at ‘Achilles and Patroclus’. Even Emory had said he always had a stiffness in the trouser region when he saw them and, of course, saw his own dick displayed....
The house in Edinburgh seemed strange without Grandfather there but once all the family gathered, even Alistair and Elspeth came for Hogmanay with their almost grown-up offspring, the place buzzed with activity. I hadn’t seen Rory and Phillipa for years so was quite unprepared for the most handsome pair of second-cousins one could wish for. They would both be finishing school this year after Highers. Rory wanted to study Law like his father and grandfather while Phillipa was another musician. She had won a bursary to the Reid School of Music in Edinburgh as a cellist, doing an Honours BMus, and would be living with Mum and Dad here all being well. She did say at one point she had a boyfriend who would also be at the Reid School and he played the horn. Luckily she didn’t see what her Uncle Jonathan did then as an action which boys ‘on the horn’ did with that very personal instrument they possessed.
Rory was close on six foot and was just like Alistair at that age. Phillipa laughed when I stood and looked her straight in the eye. She was my height exactly. She said she towered over most of her friends but it paid off when playing netball. I did get a certain vibe when Didier and Rory were chatting together and Rory, with a driving licence, took the two lads off for a ride in his dad’s car. The young’uns had been in residence since the Friday and had been kitted out on the Saturday. Ross said it was quite right not to have his kilt permanently as he had grown two inches since the Summer. Yes, he would be thirteen quite soon and would be in that adolescent growth spurt with other consequences coming soon. ‘Coming soon’ being the operative phrase.
Didier did say to Pete and me when we were down first for breakfast the next day that Rory was wondering about his sexuality. He was almost eighteen and had no feelings when with girls. We said he should tell him to speak to his Uncle Jonathan who had made the decision after a good number of years of uncertainty and with than almost accidental fathering of a son. He knew about Pete and me so there seemed to be a certain propensity amongst the males of the family. Was it genetic?
Young Francis had even had further dance lessons while at Kinloch. Mrs Francis drove him once a week on Wednesday afternoons to Fort William where a retired ballet dancer ran a guest house and gave lessons. Mrs Francis said it gave her the chance to do shopping and have a gossip so it was no trouble. Two of the older Prep School pupils had tried to take the mickey and were soon seen off by his brother and cousins. The threat, and certain ignominy of having their tender young balls blackened, soon shut them up.
On our return to normal life things were fairly quiet. I had been watching the ups and downs of the pound against the euro. Just a move of a cent or so could have quite an effect on the money being exchanged by manufacturers or travel companies on our books. It was obvious I wasn’t the only one who was actively analysing trends, others in our group had their own methods and ideas. Of course. many outside our group also tried to second-guess the market as well and once the pound rose a little against the euro we could watch as hefty forward amounts would be bought and then there were moans if the rate went the other way and they needed more. I tried several sophisticated, to my mind, statistical techniques to see what particular underlying issues affected the rate most. Government statements especially about inflation were obvious. I did note that there seemed to be an underlying tendency with the huge amounts being passed from the big money makers, gas, oil, manufacturing and raw materials from Russia, China and India into secretive accounts. During 2013 the exchange rate was on average around 1.18 euros to the pound. It fluctuated quite a bit in 2014 but the pound was creeping up. In July 2015 sterling was standing high with over 1.40 euros to the pound.
At one of our meetings that month I stuck my neck out and said that with both the American Election and the vote on Europe coming in 2016 now was the time to buy euros because whichever way the outcomes went I could foresee a drop in the value of the pound. There was a flurry of activity after that. Our computer bods were kept busy looking at trends in markets all over the world. I tried out my mathematical skills further and drew up possible scenarios with different formulae and with different combinations of numerous variables which could affect. Our Chairman, Gerald, said he couldn’t find any flaws in the argument and suggested other variables as well which made the case even stronger. We advised clients to buy at the rate we were being quoted which was around 1.44 euros to the pound, 1.45 on a good day. Our office group also took a large position against future bonuses. Pete came into that and said he was keeping his fingers crossed and if it didn’t work out he would withhold like Lysistrata. I said wait and see.
We had plenty of visitors during the Summer months of June and July with the ever-growing and ever-hungry and thirsty trio from Edinburgh coming as soon as the gates of Kinloch were unlocked to let the ravenous beasts out. At least Mum/Aunt came and kept order though that was never needed. Ross was now at the beginning of his teenage years and was developing quite a set of muscles even at that age. He said Dr McIntyre had warned him against too much exercise and I remembered old Dr Muirhead’s advice to me. He said he certainly wasn’t going into the Army like his father though he would join the CCF once he was in Big School and fourteen. Jonathan’s injuries were a constant reminder of the dangers. He was obviously a very bright lad and with David III, quiet, precise and full of brains, they made a fine pair. They wanted to visited the museums in Kensington almost every day and with Francis spending most of his time at Chas and Joe’s dance studio all three were kept occupied. Naturally, we took them all to the Indian restaurant near South Kensington station. Apprehensive at first they loved it and had to be taken back two days later. They didn’t get as far as an extra hot Vindaloo but they did try a couple of spoonfuls of Uncle Pete’s Madras.
Even though I was almost in hock we did manage a couple of good holidays ourselves. Emory and Ethan arranged for all six of us to visit Provence for a fortnight to visit his grandparents’ abode at the end of August. Still hot but not overbearingly so. We stripped off and sun-bathed and swam in the pool and ogled the bare-chested seventeen-year-old pool cleaner. He was mentally stripped daily and Emory swore he was going commando under his rather floppy shorts. We said he was allowed to make an investigation as he was probably feeling deprived as Jessica was back visiting her parents in Scotland. The next day Ethan had a lesson in pool cleaning and somehow managed to fall into the pool and dragged the poor lad in as well. A pair of shorts floated to the surface and a reasonably-sized seventeen-year-old prick was displayed as we all rushed to help the pair out. Emory’s guess was vindicated and he did pass the lad the towel he had been lying on and he and Ethan helped to rub the lad dry. They must have rubbed well as even with the towel held tight round his middle we could see he was visibly aroused. Emory got the blame as Ethan said he only dried the boy’s back.
Neither Pete or I had ever been to Venice. He was always on the lookout for new views to be committed to paper or canvas. Just seven days in October and he made sketch after sketch making sure none of the swarms of Oriental tourists were pictured. On our arrival we had wondered who bought all the masks and glassware on show in the host of little shops. We had watched while three young ladies had filled two wheelie-bags with their purchases. Clack-clack-clack went the sound of the many other bags as they were trundled over the cobbles. His series of paintings ‘Memories of Venice’ were quickly sold by the gallery. Even if the pound fell rather than rising he was well in the money
Just before his Christmas Term started at Imperial College Ethan had a heart-to-heart talk with Pete. He said that the pizza-delivery boy, Paul, was a fellow student at Imperial and he felt rather sorry for him. Paul had been in a Hall of Residence for his first year and had moved into a very grotty bedsit for his second year and that was where he’d been all over the Summer earning a pittance towards his third year living expenses. The usual sad story. Father and mother were born-again, father had found computer evidence that the lad was gay at the end of his first year. His belongings were packed and he was told not to come home again. He had taken out the usual student loans for fees and major living expenses and had some help from the student hardship fund. Therefore he was heavily in debt over the loans and when working it would take years to pay off. Now Emory had Jessica sharing his bedroom the fourth bedroom in the flat was free again. If Paul moved in there for their joint third year they could study together as they were doing the same courses in Civil Engineering and Mathematics. Would Pete talk to his mother?
Pete was rather puzzled at this. He wondered why Ethan couldn’t ask his mother himself, or even get Emory to help. He then asked Ethan straight out, was he gay? Ethan burst into tears and said he didn’t know. He knew he was very fond of Paul, who, though he could be overburdened by his rejection and worries about finance, was quietly cheerful and a good companion as they studied together even now. Was it more than a friendship? Ethan said he wasn’t sure because he’d been aroused by girls he’d met but also by other boys. He’d never really known any girls as he and Emory had been at an all-boys school. Yes, he’d had the usual wanks with others but nothing more. He saw how happy Pete and I were as well as the others with their partners and he was pleased that Emory was with Jessica. He had shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know any Jessicas ,” he had said, “I know Paul and I want to help him. It may be more. Perhaps I like both.”
Pete did talk to Ethan’s mother, Jennifer. He said Ethan was unsure. Jennifer said she’d often wondered herself about his orientation. She had found a couple of copies of gay magazines under his mattress - the usual boy’s hiding place which every mother knows about -
when he was sixteen or so and she had wondered then. It didn’t bother her as long as he was happy. If she approved of Paul he could have the use of the bedroom, but he would have to pay a token rent. Paul was approved of and moved in as term started. Working side by side on complex problems of structures, stresses and strains meant that by Christmas the shared bed had no strictures or strife, but plenty of stains, and the fourth bedroom was empty again. A spark of kindness had set the bubbling-up Methane to explode and two elements became a true compound of love and friendship. When I said this to Pete he said he wasn’t quite sure about my chemical knowledge but perhaps, as my Mum had asked, there was something in London water!
Our trip to Scotland for the Christmas and New Year festivities at the end of 2015 was the usual delight. Didier and Grigor didn’t accompany us as Didier was busy choreographing another show and some rehearsals had already started. They would spend time with Grigor’s parents in Highgate. Emory, Jessica and Ethan travelled with us on the first stage of our trek and we left them with the McKenzie’s after we had spent Christmas with Pete’s parents. The marriage between Emory and Jessica was scheduled for the Easter weekend as Jessica had decided to go on to a PhD and would take her time over it. She’d also landed a demonstratorship in Astronomy which could also be the first step on the academic path. The wedding would be taking place in the village where Pete’s parents and the McKenzie’s lived. A Highland Gathering would be taking place that weekend and the wedding would be a centrepiece. Everyone was welcome!
Another almost Highland Gathering took place for the Hogmanay celebration. Ross must have been waiting when we arrived on the doorstep as he opened the front door. He had the beginning of spots and a beatific smile We didn’t even get over the threshold before he whispered in his now almost broken voice. “Dad told me to tell you I’m OK!” Another wanking phenomenon without doubt. We heard the rest of the tale from Jonathan later.
My other nephews were growing like bean-poles. They wanted to know where the others were. A great disappointment as they only had Uncle Pete and Uncle Jamie to dance attendance on them. Not to worry, they would be at the wedding and Pete said Ross could toss the caber at the Highland Games. I saw the look which David III gave Ross. I think discussions about tossing young cabers had already taken place. With David now thirteen he would be the next to reach that crucial stage of growing-up.
Still we had plenty to talk about. We had discovered, by a circuitous route, that the purchaser of the paintings was most probably German. This had come about as the gallery owner told Pete whoever it was also wished to collect modern sculptures of nude male figures which had to be forty centimetres high. One clue. Centimetres rather than inches. He wanted to know if Pete had any contacts at the Royal College who could take on the commission as the two main sculptors on their books only did what was known as ‘conceptual’ works. As Pete said “tin-cans and lumps of iron.” Pete did know that one of his colleagues did meticulous small figures and recommended him. The colleague showed him the list, which was handwritten, and the handwriting had a distinctive continental feel. What clinched the supposition for us was that the instructions included ‘entire’ which had been written over the German word ‘ganz’.
Six statuettes were wanted in two batches of three. First: ‘Hercules’ with his club, ‘Zeus’ as a young man with a spear and ‘Poseidon’ with two fish at his feet. If all was well he also wanted ‘Apollo’ holding an orb, ‘Meleager’ as an athlete and, finally, ‘Hermes’ with winged ankles. All nude and not ‘classical’, only one casting to be made from the clay form. They and the moulds to be destroyed. The colleague had heard of Pete’s two commissions and had been shown photos of the paintings. He was a bit dubious but the undisclosed fee was very enticing. He succumbed and the statuettes produced were excellent. We took all six who had been willing models for Pete’s works to see the first three burnished, bronze effigies. They laughed when they were told the sculptor’s two student-aged sons and a teen-age nephew had been more than willing models. “All well-hung!” was Chas’s precise and exact comment. The same remark was made by my dear brother when the photos of the statuettes were circulated. Ross, of course, found the envelope with the collection of photos as Pete had left it inadvertently in the dining-room. He wanted to know when Pete would paint him ‘like that’. Pete shook his head and the age-old mantra of ‘Later’ was repeated. The collector must have been pleased as the other three were then completed. The sculptor said he hadn’t obeyed and had kept two of the forms. He didn’t say which ones. Pete and I would entreat him to cast a statuette for us, however much he might charge for it.
Ross’s ‘coming of age’ story was so similar to mine it was like a re-run. He and the other two were staying at the house in Edinburgh a week or so before going back to Kinloch in September for the Christmas Term. It was handier as they each had to have the required medical and the three appointments had been made for nine o’clock onwards one morning with Fergus McIntyre at the Medical Centre. Unknown to Jonathan, Ross had bypassed the parental control programme on the laptop in the bedroom. A couple of days before the appointment he had washed and got ready for bed before the other two who were dithering about who was going to shower and clean their teeth first. Whereas I had ogled the Four Spins Ross had used the fifteen minutes or so to watch three short clips he had downloaded of mightily endowed young studs fucking girls and then spraying their spunk all over breasts and faces. He’d switched off just before the others came in to claim their futons and was under his duvet and hiding his hardon.
He knew all about wanking because Jonathan had given him ‘the talk’ and there was the usual discussions at school and he’d tried with no result other than the little buzz. Then to his chagrin his great pal at Kinloch, Denny Harries, had told him he had squirted for the first time during the Easter vac and was proudly tossing-off each night to the dismay of the five others in his dorm who were younger than him and fed-up with trying to no avail. Ross had tried again when at home and though he had a nice small bush of dark blond hair, and his balls were looser, still nothing.
That late August night, after watching the film clips, he had got off to sleep and the inevitable happened. He had just his shortie pyjama pants on as it was warm under the duvet. Just as I had, he woke to find he’d had a wet dream. Being quite savvy about such things he realised he had achieved that essential great milestone in growing up. He could cum! He’d used his pants to wipe himself and, as the other two were fast asleep, was well into his second wank when the pair began to wake up because he was grunting and oohing and aahing just when he was about to spurt for the third time that night. Both the others knew what he was doing, they had then pushed their duvets away and started to flail their own much less mature dicks. Ross was in a quandary. He could ‘do it’. He knew they weren’t at that stage yet, though David III was only a year younger. Should he tell them to stop? Apparently both of them had stopped and had crawled over to him to investigate. Both had dipped a finger in the little pool and then had praised him and wanted to know if it would be soon for them to do the same. Francis, just ten and a bit, was phlegmatic and said he was quite content to wait as what he had done had made him sore. David was rather envious but accepted that his turn would come soon.
At breakfast, unfortunately for the new young wanker, Francis announced to his Mum that he had tried what Ross had done in the night but he would have to wait. Poor Ross had fled from the room and Danny found him hiding in a broom cupboard and Jonathan had a gentle talk with him. All was well, the parental control was strengthened with Danny roped in to give instruction about dangers of going on-line to dubious sites. David III was intrigued about cyber-security and Danny was questioned in great detail and had the notion this was the line which David might pursue as he was very mathematically minded. Both Ross and David had up-to-date iPhones and Ross did confess he’d photographed his dick and sent it to others at school as they had to him. He had a program called Snapchat which apparently erased photos once they were viewed. He promised not to take anymore shots of his cock and he said he wasn’t interested in any snaps of other boys’ possessions as he saw enough of them in the showers after PE and games and he was quite satisfied with what he’d got and it was growing!.
As with the guessed majority of new young wankers overdoing it the first times after the great discovery Ross was suffering from tenderness of his four-inch rod. He submitted to an FFI as I had and was given the ‘two-stroke’ theory of careful masturbation by Jonathan. Then he heard about his poor old Uncle and his soreness all those years ago. He must have taken it to heart as he told his father when he arrived back from Kinloch at the end of the term he had only done it once a day most days unless he thought of those films. At least young Ross was hetero!
After all the Hogmanay festivities we returned to London where 2016 was just beginning with plenty of work to do. There was a complete split in the firm over whether the members thought the UK would stay or leave the EU. I think we were all going to vote to remain but, taking comments about immigration, jobs, cost of membership and so on, we came to the conclusion it would be a close call. We hedged our funds and when the result came through and the pound dropped greatly in value I sold my holding in euros and made a very handsome profit. Pete certainly did not withhold when he saw our latest bank balance! What would happen to the vast US holdings we were managing was an open question. Still unanswered at this time.
Young Francis had decided he would like to take up ballet as a career. He had an audition at the Royal Ballet School just before Easter and wouldn’t be returning to Kinloch after the Summer Term. At the audition Caroline sat near an elderly lady who was most complimentary about Francis’s performance. She said that he had poise and balance and his presentation overall reminded her of the young Misha. Caroline wondered who he was and also the lady as she was addressed as Madame by two of the others watching. Of course, we promised to keep an eye on him and we knew his single-mindedness over his decision would be right. Having seen him with Didier and the older pair, Joe and Chas, we knew he had a future.
We all followed Caroline and Francis back to Scotland for the wedding of Jessica and Emory. All the lads were determined to be Highlanders and even Chas and Joe were kilted. Fergal piped the pair from the church on the Saturday and we all followed them down to the marquee on the field where the Highland Gathering would begin on Easter Monday. There must have been well over a hundred family and friends who sat down for the Wedding Breakfast and Ethan made a very witty Best Man’s speech. The only missing person was Emory and Ethan’s father. Emory did receive a handsome cheque but said he missed having his father there to see him married.
The news about Mrs Grantly came as a great shock. She had been so much part of my life from being a very small boy she was almost like another grandmother. So this is where this story ends. I knew my future with Pete was, and would be, secure and we were both well on the upward rungs of our chosen careers. I had heard that I was being elected to a partnership with the firm in the Autumn and would share the ups and downs of the economic life of the world. Pete was to exhibit by invitation at the Royal Academy in a special Autumn show. Our families, colleagues and those so-close friends around us were so much part of our being we knew we should not and could not fail. I would bow my head at the committal service, not to pray, but, holding my life-partner’s hand, I would think about our past, our present, and the hope of a continuing existence well into the future.