"How long do you think things are going to take, Dale?" Jonathan asked.
"I don't know. We can't appear too keen to get the land. That's why we are just buying plots of it up as they come on the market. If we went out approaching the owners, they would soon catch on.
"Anyway, what are you doing up here? I thought you didn't want your father to know you were involved with the business. You know he could just pop in to talk to some of his mates on the shop floor anytime?"
"Oh, he won't. He's down in Cornwall with my sister and those brats he appears to have taken under his wing. Does he still do that, come into the works?"
"Yes, though not as much as he used to," Dale informed him. "When he first retired to care for your mother, he was in every few days, but now it can be months before anyone sees him. Even then he only goes into the foundry or the workshops and chats to the men. Never comes up to the offices unless he has a meeting booked, which is very rare. I make sure of that."
"You don't think there is any chance he might catch onto what we're doing, do you?" Jonathan asked.
"No way," Dale answered. "What is there to catch onto? All we have done is bought some land through companies totally unconnected with Bettridge's. If he did find out, we could always say we were looking to future expansion of the works."
Jonathan nodded. He, though, was not quite so certain that his father would not find out.
In the middle of November, Mark held a family party at his house. Three of his four children and five of his seven grandchildren were present, along with their spouses. The O'Mallys were also present along with the boys but sans their daughter, who had been left with the grandparents for the evening.
The one noticeable absence from the party was Mark's son, Johnny, and his wife, though Johnny's daughter Ruth and her husband had turned up. Given the reason for the party, this was not surprising.
Tim and Krit had arrived the day before. Mark introduced Thomas to them.
"Tim, Krit, this is Thomas who I have virtually adopted as a nephew. Thomas, this is my grandson, Tim, and his partner Krit."
"Hi," Thomas said, grabbing hold of Connor and pulling him to his side, "Tim, this is my boyfriend, Connor."
After that, the four of them monopolized each other for the rest of the party. The following two Saturdays Tim and Krit made a point of going over to Walsall and taking the boys out, first to see Aston Villa play at home and then to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. Connor preferred the football, but Thomas said he preferred the ballet; the men showed more in their tights!
There was a rather surprising outcome to Tim and Krit's visit. One of the reasons for their agreeing to come over was so that Krit could attend a three-day conference in Sheffield on medical imaging. This was actually the prime reason given on his visa application for the visit. During one of the discussion sessions, Krit had queried a statement made by one of the speakers, citing some results from some research that he had been working on which gave a contraindication to that stated in the conference. After the session, the speaker approached Krit and asked for his contact details. In the subsequent weeks, they exchanged a number of emails, which resulted just before Christmas in Krit being offered a position on a medical imaging research team in Sheffield.
The moment the offer was made Tim had phoned his grandfather to ask if they could move in with him until they found a place. To which Mark had replied they might as well just move in, stay, and forget about finding a place. He also told Tim to get his application into Sheffield University to study English and that he did not have to bother about a student loan, that his fees and living expenses would be covered.
Christmas also presented a solution to a problem Mark had experienced every year since his wife died. Each year all his children invited him to spend Christmas with them, and no matter which one he chose he ended up upsetting the others. He had expected to spend it with Joan who was now living back at home with him, which would solve his problem. However, she had informed him that she would be spending Christmas and New Year in New York with the friend, who it turned out was a very well-known actor.
"Isn't he married to …?"
"Yes," Joan replied, "they are announcing their divorce in January. They have been living apart for three years now, and they thought it would not be good for her image if they divorced while she was playing Lady Margaret. But since the current series is the last, now there is no problem."
"Oh, are you the cause of the divorce?"
"Lord, no. It was Sybil who introduced us after they had separated. You may remember she played the part of the Countess of Salisbury in the BBC adaption of my first novel." Mark nodded, vaguely remembering something about it, though he had not watched the televised version of his daughter's work. Actually, to be honest, he had not read any of it either, not having a taste for historical fiction, especially the romantic sort.
He was a bit put out by Joan's announcement as that placed him back in the position of deciding which child to spend the Christmas period with. Once they knew he would be on his own for Christmas they would all be clamouring for him to come and stay with them, and not because they wanted him to but because they would feel it was their duty. It was something of a relief, therefore, when Mary O'Mally rang a couple of days later to ask if he would like to join them for Christmas and New Year.
"Are you sure?" Mark queried.
"Of course, I'm sure. To be honest, Mark, you'd be doing us a bloody great favour."
"Normally we have my parents here one year and Terry's the next. Terry's were due this year, and mine are going to my sister's. Terry's phoned up last week and told us they were going to Terry's sister. You know they are not comfortable with Thomas being here. That's their loss. He is a wonderful boy, and I'm glad Connor's got him.
"So, we need to rope you in as a replacement grandfather figure."
"I thought," Mark replied, teasing "that Thomas regarded me as a favourite uncle."
"Uncle, grandfather, who cares, so long as there is an older adult around to keep the kids under control when we're busy. Look, I'm begging you. Will you come?"
"Of course. When do you want me?"
"Could you come the day before Christmas Eve and stay until the third when they go back to school?"
"Fine, though I might want to pop out a couple of days to visit my family, but I can take the boys with me. I suppose Shelly will be up at the riding school most of the time."
"I'm not so certain about that. I think she has found that boys are more interesting than horses. Just hope the little madam does not try getting any of those between her legs."
Of course, the whole family complained that he was spending Christmas and New Year with strangers and then breathed a sigh of relief that they were not having to put him up.
That Christmas set the stage for the next couple of years. Mark was to spend Christmas with the O'Mallys, a visit he found himself looking forward to more and more each year.
After a few problems with arranging a work visa for Krit, it was eventually arranged for Tim and Krit to move to England the following Easter. Johnny made his displeasure about the fact that they would be living together in England and worse still in his father's house abundantly clear. Mark made his opinion of Johnny's displeasure quite clear also, describing him as an arrogant, stupid, bloody bigot, a comment that the rest of his family, fortunately, seemed to agree with.
Krit and Tim arrived in the UK the week before Easter, with their belongings arriving by sea some six weeks later. The first few weeks in the country were a bit hectic for the pair. For a start, Krit had to get registered with the General Medical Council, which turned out to be a bit more complicated than was first expected. This, however, was not too big a problem as it did not prevent Krit from starting work so long as he restricted his activities to the medical research side of the team's work. As soon as they were able to get the registration sorted out, Krit started to play a supervised clinical role in the team as well.
Shortly after Easter, Tim learned that he had been accepted to study English at Sheffield. In fact, as he had already done one hundred and twenty credits with the Open University, he was classed as a transfer student and he went directly into the second year.
That summer both Connor and Thomas were sixteen and there were no problems with passports, so Tim and Krit took them over to Paris for a long weekend. Mary commented that her boys were growing up and needed the experience of travel. Later in the month, Tim took the boys to Amsterdam for a long weekend. Krit was supposed to go with them but went down with a very heavy summer cold and was not fit to fly. He insisted, however, that Tim go so as not to deprive the boys of the experience. Mark made a point of not enquiring too closely as to what that experience was.
A really pleasant surprise was Thomas's GCSE results, which came out the Thursday following their return from Amsterdam. For somebody who had done very little at school before moving to Walsall he did very well, not as well as Connor, but he managed a respectable eight GCSEs with two grade As, only one C, and all the rest Bs. He also pleased Mark by saying he was going on to do A levels.
The Saturday following the boys' results Mark took Tim and Krit over to Walsall, so they could take the O'Mallys and Thomas out for a celebration meal. Mary objected to the extravagance but really enjoyed the excuse to dress up as did Shelly, who had now turned twelve.
At the end of August, the O'Mallys invited Mark, Tim, and Krit to join them at the villa they used in Spain. Tim and Krit turned the offer down as it was difficult for Krit to take the time off. His GMC registration had finally come through and he was just starting clinical practice, and Tim did not want to leave him for any length of time. Mark, though, accepted the offer, though he insisted that they use his Range Rover to drive down as it was somewhat more spacious than either of the O'Mally's cars.
Shortly after Mark got back from Spain, Tim informed him that Krit and he intended to have a Civil Partnership ceremony in October. He also told Mark that he would like Thomas and Connor to play some sort of role in the ceremony. He realised they were not quite old enough to act as best men and were a bit too old to act as ring bearers, but both Krit and he felt it would be nice to give them some sort of role. The moment she heard about the proposed ceremony Joan was onto her agent telling him to cancel all her bookings till the end of October, citing a family emergency.
"Well," she stated privately, "it is an emergency: if that pair organises it we will have a quick ten minutes in the register office." With that, she proceeded to take on the organization of the whole event, including getting visas and arranging tickets for Krit's parents and siblings to fly over for the ceremony. Mark never did work out how she did it, but she managed to get all five tickets at first class for less than he would have paid for tourist.
Eventually, after a lot of research Joan, managed to come up with a ceremony that incorporated English and Thai elements, had a role for Connor and Thomas, and conformed to the requirements of the Registrar. Mark was amazed by her ability to organize it all, but she laughed it off, telling him she's learned everything she knew about scheming and working all the angles from him. In fact, somehow, she did pull it all together and for a lot less than he had expected, though he was still several thousand pounds out of pocket because he had insisted on paying for the event.
One thing that pleased Mark was that, with the exception of Johnny and his wife, the whole of his family had accepted invitations to the event including Tim's sister, Ruth, and her husband. The thing that particularly pleased Mark was that Phillip, his youngest, had flown over from the States for the ceremony. Mark was disappointed in the fact that Phillip's wife and children were not with him.
Even Joan's son, Robert, accompanied by a very elegant Brazilian young lady, had managed to attend, having flown over from Brazil for the event. Mark commented to Joan that it looked as if there might be a need for another ceremony soon.
"Well they better have it in Rio, and her family can organise it—after this, I need a break! A couple of weeks relaxing in Rio would do me fine."
After the ceremony and reception, Mark left the party and its dancing, something his arthritis no longer permitted, and seated himself at a table on the terrace, sipping a good brandy. Thomas came out and sat down next to him.
"Are you OK, Uncle Mark?" Mark couldn't recall when Thomas had started to call him Uncle Mark, but both the boys did now, and it seemed rather nice to him. He seemed to remember it was Shelly who first called him that, but now both Connor and Thomas did as well.
"Oh, I'm fine. It's just a bit too hectic for an old man like me in there now. I'm not up to all that bouncing around, and it is a bit too hot as well. Anyway, it is nice to sit out here and think."
"Think about what?" Thomas asked.
"How things have changed, what would have happened if …" he paused not knowing quite what to say.
"If Ian had lived?"
"No, if he had lived, he would have been as old as I am; no, I was wondering what would have happened if we had been born in this age rather than the 1940s. It is so much better for people now, not just for gays like you and Connor but everybody. There is so much more social freedom."
"I know. I hope that maybe by the time we have finished university me and Connor will be able to get married."
"It's 'Connor and I'," Mark corrected.
"I know; that's why I'm not doing English at A-level."
"Wise move. So, you are going to university then?"
"What are you going to study?" Mark asked.
"I would like to do medicine if I can get the grades."
"No reason why you can't."
"That's what Connor tells me."
"Then you should listen to him, Thomas. That boy of yours has got some brains."
"I know, Uncle Mark. I just hope I can keep up with him."
"You will. Any idea where you would like to study."
"We will both be trying for University College London if we can. Connor wants to study architecture and its architecture school is ranked as number two in the world and its medical school is ranked number nine in the world."
"Isn't Cambridge ranked higher for medicine?"
"Yes, but it is not so good for architecture, and your university is more important for getting a position in architecture than it is in medicine. If you qualify from any British medical school it is fairly easy to get a decent job, but that is not the case in architecture where there is a lot of competition for the good jobs." Just then Joan came out and joined them and after a brief chat with her, Thomas went back into the party. Through the full-length windows of the reception room, Mark could see Thomas and Connor dancing together.
"Remind me when we get home," Mark said to Joan, "to ring the solicitors in the morning and tell them to give the tenants of the London flat one year's notice from the first of January."
"Why?" Joan asked, "the family never have need of it."
"Because I think the boys are going to need somewhere to live in London." Joan nodded, then went back inside.
Mark sat there looking out over the gardens.
"Granddad? Are you all right?" He turned to the questioner.
"Yes, Ruth, you're the second person to ask me that. I'm fine, just thinking about the past and how things might have been."
"Like if Dad could have been more reasonable about Tim and Krit," Ruth stated.
"Somehow I doubt if your father knows what reasonable means. Sorry, that's a bit hard of me," Mark commented.
"Not at all. Dad's a bloody idiot. Mam wanted to come, and I was going to bring her, but Dad insisted that they go to Paris for the weekend. He tried to get James and me to go with them. Said Tim was insulting the family and that … oh well, never mind. Just hope mother's OK with him and there are no problems."
"Why should there be any problems?" Mark asked.
"Mother's worried about the extent of his borrowing. Apparently, he has some major property deal lined up. Says it will take years to put all the bits into place but when he has everything lined up, he will make a fortune." Ruth informed Mark. "At Christmas, he said what he would make would make you look poor."
"Well, I hope it works out for him, though I wish he wasn't so bigoted. I don't know why. Neither your grandmother or I ever were. At least I don't think we were." Ruth laughed at her grandfather's comment and came over and kissed him.
"Granddad, I don't think you know how to be bigoted." She paused and looked back into the ballroom. "Those two boys dancing together, are they the ones who crashed into your car?"
"Actually Ruth, only one of them crashed into my car, the shorter one with the dark hair. That's Thomas, the other one is Connor."
"Dad says you are being a fool helping them out. Says they are only after what they can get from you."
"I suppose your father would see it that way. I can assure you that those boys are worth anything I can do for them. One day Thomas is going to be a doctor and by helping him I am helping to save the lives he will go on to save. Connor is going to be an architect, and hopefully, his work will make places better to live in. So, if I can help Thomas be what he wants, then I can help all who will benefit from his work."
Ruth gave her grandfather a hug, then said, "I hope you're right. They seem nice kids. It's starting to get chilly out here, let's get you back inside."
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon