When I woke up the next morning, I was greeted with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea. I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Dad knocked on my door and asked me if I planned to stay in bed all day, or whether I wanted to get up and have breakfast with him.
“Dad, what should I wear?”
“Just put on some shorts and a T-shirt and come on down.”
After I got dressed, I opened the bedroom door only to be greeted with my favourite morning aroma – bacon. I quickly rushed downstairs and sat down for a full English breakfast.
After my shower, dad told me we were going shopping. What he didn’t tell me was that instead of going into town to buy me clothes, he was taking me to Rome!
A taxi took us to the station where we boarded ‘the fast train’. Dad said that it would take approximately, 1hr 6mins and the distance was 189 km, which worked out to about 117 miles. I really enjoyed the view of the landscape as the train sped through the country.
Rome was an amazing place, but very crowded. Dad took me to his favourite place in Rome to buy clothes, and after he spoke to an assistant that he knew, the man began taking my measurements. Dad said that I didn’t even have to try things on because clothes here would fit perfectly. All I had to do was to pick out what I wanted, and the assistant would do the rest.
While all this was taking place, dad took me to a little café for some refreshments.
After that, he took me for a little walk, and we arrived at the famous Colosseum. Dad had pre-booked some tickets, so we didn’t have to wait in line like the other tourists. We became part of a group with an English-speaking guide. Out tour lasted about an hour and a half. I found the whole experience mind blowing. Dad later explained that in years gone by, Christians were brought into the arena and killed, all for the enjoyment of the Emperor and the Roman citizens. He spoke of the gladiatorial battles that also took place in the arena; just a short stone throw from where we were now sitting, and how slaves were forced to fight each other in the hope some of them might eventually gain their freedom. He also promised one evening to sit down with me and watch a film called Gladiator.
After the tour, we went back to the clothes store and I was presented with bags of items to carry.
Eventually, we made our way back to catch the train to Naples. This time I fell asleep for most of the journey.
When we got back to the villa dad helped me unpack and then handed me some swimming shorts and asked me to put them on. I suddenly became worried because as I told dad during my first visit to Southend, I couldn’t swim.
I hesitantly did what I was told and made my way down to the pool. By the time I had got there the cover of the pool had been removed and there was steam coming from the water. I stood by the edge of the pool shaking; whether this was from the cold air, or from my fear, I don’t know.
Dad was already in the water and asked me to sit on the edge of the pool, with my feet in the water. He swam over to me and handed me, what he called a rubber ring, that was fully blown up. He asked me to put it on, which I did, and I sat there shaking, this time most definitely out of fear.
Dad said, “James, I know you are scared of the water, but I promise you that I will not let you drown, in fact I will not even let you sink, please trust me.”
With that he held out his arms and I took a deep breath and fell into them.
The water felt nice and warm and I was able to touch the bottom of the pool. At this point, the water only came up to my chest. Dad asked me to hold on to the rail with one hand and hold his hand with my other. He then asked me to walk forwards and backwards from one side of the pool to the other.
He then took another rubber ring and sat on it, to prove to me that the ring would keep me afloat. He then asked me to tuck my legs up towards my chest and to my surprise, I was floating. Dad asked me to hold onto the sides of the ring and before I knew it, he had pulled me into the deeper part of the pool. I screamed when he let the ring go, but he only moved a few feet away from me; I was floating on my own!
He then pulled the ring back to the shallow end, where I was able to stand up again. He told me to hold onto the bar and kick my legs out behind me, which I did. Dad then produced a ball and we began throwing it to each other. Gradually, he began to throw it further away from me and before long, I was swimming, even if it was with the aid of the ring.
Before we got out of the pool, he had me floating on my back and kicking my way across the pool.
I was so pleased with myself when we got out of the pool and while I was drying myself off with a towel, dad replaced the cover on top of the pool.
Just then, Maria came out with some refreshments. I had my back to her, and she screamed and dropped the tray. I guess the scars on my back had shocked her because she wrapped her arms around me, mumbled something in Italian, and once again began hugging and kissing me.
Dad soon came to my rescue and told me to go back to my room, have a hot shower and then put some of my new clothes on. As I left the pool area dad sat down with Maria and told her, in Italian, about my past life, and what had happened in the cellar.
By the time I came down, she still had tears in her eyes as she went about cooking our evening meal.
While this was taking place, I sat down with dad and I told him how much I enjoyed myself in the pool.
He said, “James, tomorrow, we will continue to play some more games in the pool, until I think you are really confident in the water, and then, and only then, will I teach you to swim.”
I was pleased that dad was being patient with me. From today’s experience, I now badly wanted to learn to swim.
Dinner of course, was just as excellent. Afterwards, I made my evening call to Owen and told him about our trip to Rome and my first attempt at swimming.
Later, before bed, I cuddled up to dad in his chair and I said, I love it here in your villa. Can I ask you something, dad?”
“James, we have spoken about this before, you can ask me anything. Also, this is not my villa it is our villa. What’s mine, is now yours as well, and that goes for our home back in England, okay?”
“You really mean that, dad?”
“Yes, son, I do, now what is it you want to ask me?”
“Well, I…I…I was wondering if you could teach me how to fight.”
“Why do you want to learn how to fight?”
“Because I don’t want to be afraid ever again.”
“James, I am not going to teach you how to fight, because fighting should only be used as a form of self-defence. What I will teach you however, if you want me to, is to learn you how to defend yourself.”
“I promise, now I think it is time for you to go to bed. Tomorrow, your training begins.”
I had a big smile on my face as I ran upstairs to get ready for bed. When dad came in to tuck me in, I said, “Today was fun. Thank you for being patient with me and thank you for all the neat stuff you bought me today, I really like the shorts, they’re so much better than the ones you get in England. “Good night, dad, I love you.”
Good night, James, I love you more.”
The following day began with a little work-out in the gym, followed by dad teaching me some self-defence moves. He insisted that I work repeatedly on one move until I had perfected it. It was only then would he teach me something else.
He instilled in me not so much the proverb, ‘practise makes perfect’, but more importantly, ‘practice makes permanent’. He then explained that a person with a poor technique, who practices the technique repeatedly, will virtually make this poor technique permanent.
He went on to say, “This is why, James, I will wait until you have perfected a technique before progressing further.”
At first, practising one move repeatedly, over and over again, became a little boring, but when dad added another move and connected it with the first move, it all made sense.
After an hour or so, we switched to the pool and by the end of the morning, I had managed to jump into the pool, still clinging on to my rubber ring of course!
After lunch, we did the same again, but this time, it was only when the pool session had finished, did I notice that dad had deflated the rubber ring by half.
After another great meal from Maria, dad took me into the cinema room and let me pick a movie to watch. Halfway through the film, dad paused it so that I could Skype Owen. I slept well that night, because of the day’s activities.
The next morning, after another strenuous workout, dad taught me one of his favourite strangle holds, followed by a move to get a person into the strangle hold. Once I had, according to dad, perfected both moves, he made me put them together, and I was well pleased when I put dad into the strangle hold and he had to ‘tap out’!
By the end of my pool session, I managed to swim, with my ring, across the width of the pool, and I was well pleased with myself. Dad picked me up and hugged me tightly and congratulated me on my achievement.
During our evening meal Maria asked dad if she could bring her grandson with her tomorrow, as his mother had to go out for the day. Dad of course said it was fine.
The next day, Maria arrived with her grandson, his name was Leonardo. Maria said that he was 7 years old and a little shy around people he didn’t know. After the introductions, I realised that Leonardo couldn’t speak any English and I of course couldn’t speak any Italian, apart from the phrase that dad got me to say to Maria, after my first meal here, and I certainly wasn’t going to say that to him!
I asked dad if we could go swimming as it had turned out to be another nice day. Dad said it would be fine, but Maria said that Leonardo didn’t have a swimsuit with him. Leonardo and Maria had a heated conversation in Italian, which resulted in Leonardo crying and sitting in the corner.
Dad spoke to Maria in Italian and at the end of the conversation, Maria agreed that he could swim in his underwear. I held out my hand to Leonardo and he took it, and we ran upstairs to get a couple of towels.
Leonardo was shocked when he saw the whip marks on my back and in pidgin English, he sort of made me understand what he was trying to say. He wanted to know if dad had whipped me. He relaxed a lot when I said, “No.”
Dad came and sat at the table by the pool side and read a paper. He told me that he was only there to make sure Leonardo or me, didn’t get into trouble in the water.
I pulled my shorts off quickly, because I had my swimsuit on underneath, grabbed my rubber ring and jumped into the pool. Leonardo pulled his shorts down, but it turned out that he was not wearing any underwear. He also grabbed a ring and put it on, before he too, jumped into the water.
Maria came out to the pool and when she saw that Leonardo didn’t have his underwear on, she started shouting at him, which resulted in him crying again. Maria said to dad that it was not right and that she would punish him for embarrassing me. When dad told me this, I immediately undid the string on my shorts, removed them, and threw them onto the side of the pool.
Dad saw what I was trying to do and explained to Maria that I was okay with it and that was why, to make Leonardo feel better, I was now swimming without trunks on as well. Maria thanked dad and walked away shaking her head.
I looked at dad, who just smiled and nodded his approval and went back to reading his newspaper.
Leonardo and I had a great time in the pool playing games and throwing the ball to each other. It seems that when it came to just having fun, when you are kids, language was not a barrier.
After about an hour, dad said that it was time to get out and he handed us both a towel. He suggested that I took Leonardo upstairs and have a shower to wash the chlorine off our bodies before we sat down for lunch.
I was surprised when after I got into the shower, Leonardo dropped his towel and came in and joined me. Being the younger one, I washed his hair and he insisted on washing mine.
After we had put our shorts back on, we came downstairs for lunch. Maria had made a fish dish, which had been freshly caught that morning. I was about to repeat the only Italian phrase I knew to thank Maria for a wonderful lunch, but thought better of it, in case she attacked me again!
After lunch, dad thought it would be good to go into the town, while Maria cleaned up the villa. Dad insisted on bringing Leonardo with him, which was fine by me, because as far as I was concerned, Leonardo had now become my first Italian friend.
The town was very busy when we arrived. Leonardo met up with some of his friends from school and had an animated conversation with them, I think about me, because after a while, they all came over to me, introducing themselves, and shaking my hand. Some of them could speak a little English and from what I could tell, their ages ranged from 8-13.
Dad stood back and just smiled, I guess he was happy I had made some new friends. After a while he said something to all of them in Italian, which got a positive reaction from all. Leonardo led us to an ice cream shop and dad ordered everyone a milk gelato, which I later found out to be an ice cream.
While dad went to pay the bill for the ice creams, a boy of about 13 came up and started picking on me. The other boys told him to clear off, at least I assumed that was what they were saying to him, but he just ignored them. The bully grabbed my T-shirt and raised his fist, ready to hit me. Just then dad appeared, and I thought he was going to save me from a beating. However, dad just stood back and flicked his hand over, which reminded me of the move he had taught me. I took a deep breath, grabbed the bully’s hand, pulled and twisted his wrist, he then screamed out in agony. I then quickly applied the strangle hold that dad had also taught me, and the bully knew he had no escape.
Just as the face of the bully was turning a nice shade of blue, I let him go and he fell to the floor, gasping for breath. To my surprise Leonardo’s friends started to kick him and he managed to get off the floor and ran off.
The boys were all congratulating me, well I think that is what they were doing, and patting me on the back. I looked up at dad, who was silently clapping his hands and smiling.
Before we left dad once again said something to the group and dad and I received ‘high fives’ from all of them.
On the way back to the villa, I asked dad what he had said to them.
He said, “I invited them all back to our villa tomorrow for a swim party, provided all of them wore their swimming trunks!”
I thanked dad, in the only way I knew how, and that was to give him a big hug. Not to be left out, Leonardo joined in the three-way hug.
After a short conversation with Leonardo, dad found out that surprisingly, he didn’t own any trunks, so on the way home, we stopped off at a sports store and Leonardo chose a white pair of speedos.
When we got back to the villa, while Leonardo was having an animated conversation with Maria, dad took me to one side and congratulated me on what I had did to that bully, and that we would talk later.
Maria wanted to pay for the speedos, but dad was having none of that. Instead, she said that she would prepare a load of snacks for tomorrows swim party. Leonardo had told Maria the names of the boys invited tomorrow, and she told dad that she would telephone their parents to tell them that it was okay.
That evening, after my call to Owen, I asked dad why he didn’t try and stop the bully.
Dad said, “James, you told me that the main reason as to why you wanted to learn self-defence was because you didn’t want to feel afraid again if someone picked on you. Had I stepped in, then there would have been part of you, still afraid. What you did was great. However, I want you to promise me that you will only use what I will be teaching you as a last resort. It takes more strength to walk away from a fight than it does to have one. Okay?”
“Okay, dad, but there was still a part of me that was still scared when that bully attacked me. I don’t even know why he wanted to hurt me?”
“Sometimes, people like to act big in front of people they know. You were the new boy in the group, and the boy wanted to show the others how tough he was. I have a feeling that bully will think twice before picking on anybody again, and I am sure the boys will remind him of that fact when they next meet up in school.”
By the time Maria had arrived the next morning, word had got out about this new English Bruce Lee that was staying at the villa and lots more want to meet him. Dad and I thought that there would only be about 5 boys in total, but this had now risen to 12!
Dad said it was okay, and after they arrived, we all had great fun in the pool. Dad of course was supervising. More than once, a few boys came up to touch my scars, I’m sure by the end of the day some of them thought that my scars were caused during a weapons, martial arts tournament.
After lunch, we went into the cinema room and dad put on one of his silent slapstick movies, that didn’t require any translation. This was followed by a Mr Bean film.
While this was going on, dad fired up the barbecue pit ready for an ‘eat out’ for supper. At about 7pm, several parents had turned up and we all had a great feast.
I still hadn’t got a clue as to what most people were saying, but that didn’t matter, everyone, including me, was having fun.
It wasn’t until everyone had left, and we had cleaned the place up, did dad tell me that we were going home tomorrow. I was a little sad on hearing this because I had really enjoyed my stay here and made some friends. Dad assured me that we would come back during the summer break and all meet up again.
The next morning, Maria and Leonardo came to say goodbye, both were visibly upset when we left for the airport, and so was I.
I left most of my clothes at the villa and because we only had a couple of small bags, it made life easier checking in; dad took a small bag into the cabin with us.
The plane journey home was smooth but instead of arriving back at London City airport, we landed at an airport called Stansted. Dad hired a cab to take us home and I must admit, by the time I got into bed that night, I was glad to be home.
Halfway through the night I crawled into bed with dad. He asked me if I was ill?
I simply said, “No, dad, I just wanted to sleep with you tonight because I love you.” With that, I turned over and fell into a deep, but happy sleep.
The next few weeks went by very quickly. The only difference came when Ruby gave me a set of exam papers for me to sit. I had one to do each morning for a week, and they were quite difficult in places. In the afternoons, dad continued to teach me self-defence.
The following week, an appointment was made at Owen’s school to meet the Head Teacher. Much to my dismay, dad thought it about time that I went to school full time. I guess I had got used to having every afternoon off, that the prospect of attending school all day hardly filled me with joy.
The interview with the Head Teacher was thorough. She went over my test results and then asked to speak to my dad on his own whilst I waited outside the door. He was in there a good half an hour before I was invited back inside.
The Head Teacher said, “Your dad has explained to me a lot of your past, and I am sorry about that. If you come to this school, only I will know about what happened to you, as I do not think other teachers need to know. Your dad has asked, for the time being that you be excused swimming classes and situations where you must remove your shirt e.g. P.E. lessons. However, your dad said that you are quite sporty so perhaps on the days you have P.E. you could wear your P.E. shirt under your school shirt.”
The interview went on for about another half an hour before she decided that the next step would be for dad and me to have a look around the school. Halfway through our tour. The school bell went for playtime and it was only then that I recognised Owen who came up to us for a chat. This didn’t last long because the Head wanted me to meet, what would be my new class teacher. She seemed very nice and I would be in Owen’s class, which pleased me.
So, with much trepidation, the following Monday, I was up early and dressed in my new school uniform. To be honest, I was suddenly not looking forward to leaving dad. Apart from when I was kidnapped, dad was always close by. He was not only my dad, but also my protector and hero.
I tried to put on a brave face when I got into the car to go to school, but deep down I was not only hurting, I was a little afraid as well.
Luckily, Owen was there to greet me as I got out of the car and dad promised he would be here when school ended.
Being the new boy on your first day at school, is not a good experience. As I walked through the playground, I felt as if the whole school had stood still and was watching me.
Before registration, I had to stand in front of the class, while the teacher introduced me to the class.
As in any classroom there is a hierarchy, and even in my first few minutes in the classroom, my instinct told me who to steer clear of. At his precise moment, I was a nobody, I was at the bottom of the ‘pecking order’, and until I found my niche, there I would stay. The only good thing was, that I got to sit next to Owen.
I was pretty good with numbers, so maths lessons were okay. Where I found problems with were the ‘ins and outs’ of the English language. Luckily, I was able to help Owen in some areas and he was able to help me in others.
If there was a hierarchy in the classroom, there was even more of a one in the playground. Being the new kid, brought unwanted attention from certain individuals, that I could have done without, especially on my first day. I guess all bullies feel threatened by anyone new. Although I didn’t retaliate, I stood my ground and was even able to replicate the look dad produced, when faced with confrontation. This resulted in two things. The main bully, kept face, by not having his position challenged, and I was left alone.
Lunch was meagre compared to what I was used to, and I was certainly looking forward during the afternoon sessions to one of dad’s meals when I got home.
By the end of school, I had managed to make a few friends, which I was grateful for, and I certainly had caught the eye of a few girls, who would stare at me and then turn and giggle – why do girls giggle?
At the end of school, dad, as promised, was there to pick me up. When I got into the car dad asked the age-old question, “So what did you learn today?” to which I replied, “Not a lot dad, I have to go back again tomorrow!”
“Cheeky sod,” came the reply, which made us both laugh.
Dad wanted me to get into a good habit when it came to homework. So, the rules were, once I arrived home, I was to go upstairs, change and then do my homework, while dad prepared the dinner.
That evening, as I sat on dads lap in his favourite chair, I went over my day with him. I didn’t let on about ‘my place’ in the classroom or the altercation with the bullies. I guess deep down I didn’t want to worry him.
School, I knew was a necessity. I would have much preferred to stay at home and be schooled by Ruby, but I knew interaction with others was important. After dad came in to say goodnight to me, I lay awake for ages wondering what tomorrow would bring.
Here I am lying in bed still wondering if I am doing the right thing. This parent stuff is so hard. Today, leaving James at school for the first time, tore my heart out. The house was so empty without him. I know in the long run, it is for the best, James needs to mix with other children his own age and he needs a proper education, but I still missed him today. I wonder if all parents go through the same feelings as me when their kids start school for the first time? I don’t think I have ‘clock watched’ so much in all my life and every time the phone rang, I half expected it to be from the school asking me to come and collect James.
I was so pleased when James jumped in the car after school that I didn’t notice that there was a slight change in him. This was not like me at all, I can usually pick up on slight changes in personality, and the more I think about it, something was different in James tonight.
I do not want to become an overprotective parent and be constantly calling the school without cause. I think that tomorrow when I drop James off at school, I will pop in and get some parenting advice from Carol.