Christmas morning Mark insisted that no presents could be opened until everybody was up and breakfasted. That insistence probably resulted in little Ian learning a few more English words than Mark would have liked, as the youngster ran around the house making sure everybody was awake (a task he was assisted in by Peter and Emma, who also wanted to get to their presents).
As far as Ian was concerned the best present, he got that day was the train set from Thomas and Connor. The boys helped him set it up circling the track around the base of the Christmas tree in the conservatory after all the presents had been opened. Mark was somewhat puzzled as to who enjoyed playing with the train the most, Ian, Thomas and Connor, or Tim and Krit, who had also joined in the construction project helping set it up.
New Year was quiet, Phillip and his family having returned to Winchester and Krit and Tim having taken Krit's parents to London, along with Ian. The O'Mallys had also returned home for New Year, though Connor and Thomas had stayed.
"You know, there is no reason why you could not have gone to Walsall for New Year," Mark commented to the boys. "I can still look after myself." The boys made some comment about needing to polish the cars and continued with whatever they were doing. In many ways Mark felt glad that they were around. He was finding life tiring. Recently he had found himself starting to take a mid-morning nap as well as his usual afternoon nap.
It was a couple of weeks after New Year when Tim's sister, Ruth, phoned wanting to speak to Tim. Mark, who had answered the phone told her that Tim would be away till the following day, as he was over at the Derby works doing some training.
"Do you think he would mind if I came up to see him, Granddad? We've got a bit of a problem, and I think I need Tim's help," she asked.
"Ruth, darling, I'm sure he won't mind. Just come up, and if Tim can't help you I'll see what I can do."
Ruth arrived the following afternoon, about an hour before Tim got back from Derby. Mark had phoned him to let him know his sister was on her way, and he said he would get back as soon as he could.
Mark and Ruth were sitting in the kitchen when Tim got back just before three. He gave his sister a kiss on the check and then sat down and asked her, "OK, Sis, what's wrong?" Ruth glanced at Mark. Tim continued, "You might as well tell us now; it will save me having to tell Granddad all the details later."
"Dad's given us notice to quit the farm," Ruth stated.
"I thought you and Steve were going to buy the place," Tim stated.
"We were. Dad agreed a couple of years to sell it to us as soon as we got an agricultural mortgage sorted out, but that is taking longer than we expected. He issued us a notice to quit last quarter day."
"Don't you have agricultural tenant's protection?" Mark asked.
"Unfortunately not Granddad. We're a stud farm, so we're not covered."
"How much mortgage do you need, I'll see what I can do," Tim stated.
"Three and a half million," Ruth responded.
"Christ, he only paid a half million for it, and not ten years ago," Tim observed.
"Yes, but Swindon has expanded in the last few years. The farm is now on the edge of the current planning envelope, and if the envelope is expanded it will be prime development land."
"How long is the notice?" Mark enquired.
"He's had to give us a year according to the tenancy agreement."
Mark asked Tim to pass him the phone, then he phoned his accountants.
"This is Mark Wainwright. Could I speak to Rachel Dunlieven, please?" Mark held the phone whilst waiting to be connected. "Hello Rachel, Mark Wainwright, could you tell me what the position is with the mortgage on the Swindon property?" He looked across at Tim and Ruth who both had puzzled expressions on their faces, then put his hand across the phone pickup and stated, "Where did you think your father got the mortgage to buy the farm in the first place?" Tim thought a second then nodded. "Thank you, Rachel, my solicitor James Belkin will be calling you in a bit, could you give him full details of the account, please." He listened to the reply then turned the phone off and put it on the table.
"Right, listen you two, your father never has been very good at paying the mortgage, and there are substantial arrears. This year he has even defaulted on the interest payments. I've never pushed the issue as I've known you were using the place, Ruth. Now, though, I think I will." He picked up the phone handset and turned it on, then dialled a number. Once through he asked for James Belkin and held whilst he was put through.
"Hello, James," he started once connected, "any chance you could pop over and see me on your way home from work?" He listened to the reply then put the phone down.
"James," Mark told the two siblings, "will be here in about an hour, then we can start to sort this out."
"How, Granddad?" Ruth asked. "We don't want to lose the farm."
"Trust me, Ruth, you won't," Mark responded.
James arrived in just under an hour and Mark asked Tim and Ruth to join them in the living room. He briefly explained to James what was going on, giving him an outline of the history of the farm and how Johnny had been financed to buy the place in the first place some ten years ago.
"He should have paid a hundred and fifty thousand off the mortgage by now but in fact, only fifty thousand of the capital has been paid off. He is also in arrears on the interest. The accountants have confirmed they have sent him regular statements showing his position, so he knows what it is. There have been no repayments at all for the last year, so now he is in for over thirty grand in interest and over a hundred grand in capital payments."
"But," Ruth interrupted, "we've been paying our rent, Granddad."
"I'm sure you have, Ruth, but your father has not been paying me," Mark responded. "James, your father drew up the mortgage for me and insisted I put in a procedure, so I could foreclose rapidly if I wanted to. Didn't see the point at the time, but then I didn't know Johnny as well as I do now, and I must say he has disappointed me. I want you to activate the procedure and don't give him any leeway. Foreclose on the mortgage ASAP. As soon as you have done, create a new mortgage on the balance outstanding on the old one in favour of Ruth and her husband." James gave Mark a questioning look. "James, the only reason I gave Johnny the mortgage in the first place was so that Ruth could have the farm, and I intend her to keep it. If she could pay her father the rent, she can pay me the mortgage."
James must have acted very promptly. Mark suspected he had probably gone back to the office after their meeting and set things in motion, for two days later Johnny was on the phone.
"Dad, what are you doing?" Johnny demanded.
"Just having a cup of tea and some toast," Mark replied, knowing full well what Johnny meant.
"I meant about this mortgage. I just got a letter from your solicitor chap giving me notice of foreclosure. It says you want the whole outstanding balance in twenty-eight days."
"Is that so?" Mark replied. "If the letter says that, it must be the case. I leave stuff like that to my professional advisors these days."
"But dad, it's four hundred and eighty-two thousand you're asking for. There's no way I can get that in twenty-eight days. You've got to give me more time."
"I'm sorry, Johnny, but I can't. You have had plenty of time to bring the account up to date and have done nothing with it. I need to get it sorted out and there is another party prepared to take it on.
"You need to understand, Johnny, I don't have that much time left and I need to make sure all my affairs, especially the financial ones, are sorted out before I go."
"Then you better hurry up and go," Johnny stated before he slammed down the phone.
A couple of hours later James called Mark to inform him that Johnny had been in contact and agreed to surrender the property prior to foreclosure with the proviso that all outstanding amounts were cleared by the surrender. James advised that Mark should accept the offer, a piece of advice that Mark was happy to agree to.
That weekend Joan and Richard turned up to stay a few days. Actually, Joan was going to be staying a month or so, but Richard was going to be moving up to a location on the moors where he was to begin filming an eighteenth-century drama series.
"Bloody stupid time of year to be filming up there," Richard commented. "Don't they know that it will be raining all the time, and the rain is not only freezing, it's also horizontal?"
"At least they are putting you up in a nice country pub," commented Joan.
"I've yet to find a comfortable bed in a country pub," Richard responded. "They are shooting all the other scenes in Romania. You would have thought they would have green screened these shots and kept us in the warm."
"Darling, you're getting soft in your old age," Joan commented.
"In future, I think I'll only take on roles of aged professors giving lectures from beside their fires. No more Jacobite hero roles for me."
Later over a cup of tea, Joan advised Mark that Richard was really loving the role. "He's playing a part a good fifteen years younger than his age and it's really appealing to his vanity."
Monday evening Ruth called to speak with Tim. Tim took the call in the kitchen as the others were watching a DVD in the lounge. After about an hour he came back into the lounge and announced, "Mother has left Dad, and she's moved into the farm with Ruth."
"Good for her," Joan commented. "She should have left that idiot brother of mine ages ago. Now, is that husband of yours around?" Tim called Krit, who came through from the kitchen, grumbling that if he got any more interruptions there would be no dinner. It was his turn to cook the evening meal.
"Sorry, Krit," Joan said, "but Dad's just gone up for a short nap. I wanted to ask how things are with him. He does not seem up to his old self." Krit was silent for a moment.
"Look, Joan, I'm not his doctor, as family that would be unethical."
"I know that," she responded, "I also know you keep an eye on things, so what gives?"
"He's dying. It could be months, it could be years, though I think months is more likely. He never fully recovered from that initial attack and his heart has been getting weaker ever since. It's only a matter of time, and he is getting more and more tired every day. Someday he will sit down for a nap and not wake up."
"Thanks, Krit. I don't suppose there is anything we can do?" she asked.
"No, if there was, I would tell you. As it is there is nothing, except to make sure he does not push himself too hard."
Tim's mother moving out of the family home was the trigger for what ended up being a very messy divorce. During the proceedings, it turned out that Johnny was financially overextended everywhere. It also turned out that it was his wife's parents who had financed the deposit for the family home and his wife who had paid the mortgage. The judge, therefore, awarded the Highgate house to her in the settlement, leaving Johnny with little or no capital. A few weeks later he filed for bankruptcy.
Easter came and went with the completion of the extensions to the Derby works. That enabled the movement of the various departments between Derby and Sheffield to be implemented. Most of the workers in the affected departments chose to move with their departments, especially as the firm offered generous resettlement packages. A few, mostly for family reasons, like it not being a good time for the children to move school, decided to commute using the half-hour rail journey. Arrangements had been made to give those who wanted to commute some help with their travelling costs.
There were, of course, a few who did not want to make the move and decided to leave the firm. Fortunately, these were few and none of them were what Paul or the other directors regarded as essential personnel.
When it was all finished, which was at the end of June, Tim took Mark into the Sheffield works to show him around. Mark was impressed. Originally it had been arranged that Mark and George would formally open the new buildings, but George was now in a hospice and Mark indicated he did not want to do it on his own. As a result, there was no formal opening, and they just drifted into use.
George Mattashion died the first week of August. Under the deal that he had put in place with Paul Strange a few years earlier, the control of the shares in MBE that George held passed to Paul, which now effectively gave him full control of the company. This was a relief to Mark as he knew the business would be in a safe pair of hands.
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon