Don Hewson 5

My solicitor advised me to do nothing for a year after the death, to give time for me to be sure what I want to do. The year is over, but I am still desolated by the loss of Sal.

Sal speaks to me in every room. So I cannot sell the house.

What Sal actually says is,

Get off your arse and do something useful. Don’t just sit there like a couch potato.”

Sal first said that two weeks after I was made redundant, and she is still saying it. I had acknowledged it then and I acknowledge it now. But what should I do?

I play golf a couple of times a week but that does nothing much for me except exercise, fresh air, and conversation. One cannot build a life on it.

At the time of Sal’s death I had been thinking on what I wish to do for the next twenty or thirty years or until we emigrated.

I thought about volunteering but I did not wish to be a manager again and I did not wish to be a shop assistant. I did not wish to be a Trustee or a committee member.

I always avoid committees because I hate to go at the pace of the slowest thinker. I do not enjoy perpetually being nice to fools which is necessary to get anything done on a committee.

I am too old to start a business and there is no business I wish to start.

Politics?

I have a personal test for politicians. Would I hand over all my own hard earned money to this person and let this person manage my money without supervision for the next five years? Then why on earth entrust the entire country to these bozos with their fake smiles?

Normally I do not vote. I do read every piece of election literature I receive in case there might be a decent candidate or a satisfactory argument. I always go to the polling station.

I normally spoil my ballot paper. I quite enjoy composing the pithy comment I will write on the ballot paper.

I do not intend to become involved in politics myself because all politics involves committees. None of the political parties inspire me positively.

My step son Gordon is a lawyer in Australia. Gordon is a corporate lawyer, and he is doing very well. Gordon married an estate manager who turned out to be managing one of her family’s estates. She and Gordon produce a child every two years. They have recently had number four.

At the family conference after Sal’s death Gordon told me that he is financially very comfortable. Gordon would not mind inheriting when I pass on, but by the look of me that is a good thirty or forty years off – “so no worries, mate!”

Susie the step daughter is a University lecturer in Wiltshire, married to an untitled toff. The once poor lad is from a wealthy titled family but Paul was himself neither wealthy nor titled. Paul felt his relative poverty deeply, which is why Paul went into the City.

Paul became an arbitrageur. An arbitrageur is a speculator.

Paul generates ridiculously large returns for himself and for his investors. Paul is saving up to buy Devizes or an estate near Devizes – or possibly both.

And eventually Paul will buy a title. If you have money and connections you can buy almost anything.

At the family conference Susie and Paul smiled when I offered to distribute some of the insurance monies.

Don’t fret, Don” said Susie.

Paul and I are all right without your money.”

As Susie employs a nanny for her child, a cleaner, a gardener, and a cook/housekeeper I assume Susie was telling the truth.

The seven bedroom Victorian house and the 40 acres in Wiltshire apparently have no mortgage, which is also a clue.

This is not the estate that Paul desires, just a “make do” apparently, until Paul can afford the kind of estate that Paul thinks appropriate.

Sal and I invested with Paul when Paul first set up as an arbitrageur. The annual reports show very significant growth in the fund even after Paul takes his management fee. There have been no dividends yet.

So the stepchildren are doing well.

Neither stepchild suggested that I should move in with them.

I do not wish to move in with either of them. I would have declined if I was asked. But I was not asked.

I like Gordon and Susie and their spouses, and they like me. But they are building their own lives, rather successfully. I am not decrepit, so there is no obvious reason to inflict myself upon either of them.

Even before Sal’s death I had been frustrated. I needed something to get my teeth into but there was nothing obvious.

So what to do now?

Financially I am more than fine. The mortgage is long cleared. I am normally able to save and to reinvest over three quarters of my various incomes. I have no financial worries.

Sal and I had both started with nothing. Both sets of parents had been council tenants and both couples had decided not to exercise the “right to buy” when Thatcher introduced it.

All four parents are now dead. There was no inherited wealth from any of them.

Sal and I lived carefully, within our incomes. As our incomes increased we had remained careful. Latterly we had lived well within one income, saving and investing the rest of our money.

We both worked hard during our working lives.

I have no guilt about being well off.

I do not know what to do with myself. I have always been a hard worker and now I am bored.

I am aware of the danger of becoming unfit. I do not eat excessively or drink much. I was in the Army long ago and since leaving the Army I have done press ups and stomach crunch exercises every day. That has kept me slim and fit.

I am lucky to have all my hair and most of my teeth. Objectively I am quite good looking. In appearance I am a little rugged, but many women like that.

I have all my faculties. Everything works.

I was a widower living alone. Approaching fifty-nine as I then was, taking on a child had not been on my radar. Getting involved with a hassle of children was even less in my thinking. Is “hassle” the right collective noun?

I was interested in finding an attractive woman and in forming a relationship with her. That I would have teenage and younger girls and boys as my constant companions did not occur to me. I had never changed a nappy and I had no plans to start. Life begins at fifty-nine!

How did I inherit a child?

Sal and Susie had collected waifs and strays. Susie started bringing waifs home when she was seven years old. Susie only stopped bringing waifs home when she left home herself. One of the last waifs was a skinny teenager called Kate Meglin, some years younger than Susie. Kate is a quite pretty honey blonde.

Kate had a tangled upbringing. Kate was expelled from school at fourteen. Then Kate lived with us for about eighteen months before moving on.

Kate has no living relatives, except a son Max who was conceived at a pop festival. Sal had been walking the dog a couple of years ago when she bumped into Kate walking with Max. Kate lives a few streets away from us in a Housing Association maisonette. Kate is now about twenty-seven. Sal regularly babysat Max when Kate went out to parties and so forth.

After Sal’s death I have carried on babysitting Max. Kate brings Max to the house shortly before going out, and she collects Max a day or two later, when she has sobered up or whatever the equivalent is for drug use. In fairness to Kate her drug use is “recreational” rather than chronic. Max has a bedroom with us (me and Sal) and Max keeps some clothing and toys at our house.

Max is quite used to Kate disappearing for days on end. Max enjoys his times with me.

I enjoy my times with Max.

The only disconcerting feature for me is how small Max is. Max is average for a four year old, but the standard issue four year old is a small person. Max has lots of personality, but he is only four. Eventually Max will be my height or taller, but he is currently small.

I can lift Max above my head – which Max enjoys. Max also enjoys when I pretend to drop him and then catch him.

Kate is off to a pop festival again, so Max is with me for “three or four days”. This could easily turn into a week. I have a key to Kate’s maisonette so Max and I may fetch clothes or toys if needed.

I half suspect Kate is off to get pregnant again, but that is not my business. The Government now expects single mums with no little kids at home to look for work. Kate’s timing is about right, given that Max is nearly five.

In the mornings Max is upped, washed, dressed, and breakfasted. When I go to rouse him Max is usually already up and playing quietly in his bedroom. At nearly five Max dresses himself. I help Max to wash in the mornings as Max might otherwise scamp the job.

In the mornings Max is free to play inside, play outside, watch TV or whatever. There is a supply of child DVDs to watch. I spend the morning mowing lawns or weeding. Then I come in to serve lunch.

Sal had always produced meaty stew with pearl barley for lunch when Max was there, so usually I do, too. I prepare it the night before, after Max has gone to bed. Then it goes into a slow cooker that I turn on when I get up. Sometimes we have beans on toast instead.

The routine at lunch time includes discussion about what we wish to eat for dinner. This is oriented to Max’s tastes, which usually involve chips and fish fingers or chips and fried chicken or similar. Sal had insisted on salad, so salad is a fixture.

Since Sal’s death Max always makes the salad. This involves Max in using a knife and a chopping board, so Max feels truly grown up. As Max chooses what goes into the salad and Max has made the salad there is no problem in persuading Max to eat the salad.

Dessert is usually some supermarket rubbish that comes in small pots. Sometimes I make a rice pudding.

In the afternoon we play cards or a board game. Max always wins. This is because Max is too clever for me, and Max thinks too fast.

Sometimes we go for a walk along the canal or to a recreation ground. Or we might have to go to a supermarket to buy frozen peas and other essentials.

After dinner we wash up together and we watch TV together, with cuddles. We have cuddles at other times, too. At the end of the day the routine is bath, pyjamas, and reading in bed with cuddles.

Then it is “lights out”.

Max has a small night light that he may turn on if he wishes. Max does not turn the night light on but it is a comfort to Max that he may turn it on.

Kate had been away just over a week when Max announced that he had nursery school tomorrow. We went to Kate’s maisonette to collect a bright yellow “T” shirt and as it was not clean I put it in my washing machine. Max told me that we had to be at nursery school for half past nine.

The next morning, appropriately dressed, Max led me to the local junior and infant school. It seemed a light, bright, cheerful place. The Victorian structure my step children attended has long since been demolished.

The glorious redhead in charge of Max’s group was not sure who or what I was.

Is this your granddad?”

No. He’s Don.”

I explained that Kate is away and that Max is staying with me until Kate returns. The redhead’s eyes narrowed, and she demanded my name and address. I gave both. I showed her my photo ID driving licence which is always in my wallet.

So what is the relationship? I explained that I am a family friend and a surrogate grandfather.

So where is Kate?”

I explained again. The redhead was not happy.

I gave a placatory smile.

Look, please, do not get cross with me. I am just doing Kate a favour. When you see Kate you can get cross with her.”

By the way, what time should I collect Max?”

The redhead looked at me as though I had made an unwanted indecent suggestion. Miss Brown is very good looking and maybe if I get to know her better I might be tempted to propose something. Just at the moment Miss Brown is a ticking bomb.

I am not sure that you can.”

Miss Brown explained that because I am not a relative, and I have no letter from Kate Meglin, Miss Brown’s legal position is difficult. If Miss Brown hands over Max, and anything were to happen, everyone would blame her.

Oh, you mean if I turn out to be a pederast?”

Yes”.

If he walks out the gate, and he takes my hand, and we walk off together, is that a problem?”

Yes.”

I have some sympathy for her position, but I am too old to be pushed around by young women, even attractive redheads. I continue to smile.

Tell you what. I will be here at going home time.”

Either he comes home with me or you take him home yourself. It will be your call.”

I had not expected any problem. I was surprised because this issue had blown up.

I like Miss Brown. She is intelligent and forceful. Without dressing to be gorgeous she is gorgeous. She is even more gorgeous when she is cross.

Yes, I would like to know Miss Brown better. I need a woman who has some fire in her and who will stand up to me.

When I returned at noon to collect Max there was a police car waiting. The policewoman was pleasant enough. I showed my photo driving licence again. The policewoman said there is “no problem, exactly”. I will have a visit from social services shortly. She took my telephone number to give to social services. I was impressed and pleased that the school is on the ball and that the police are backing them up. It is only a small nuisance.

I hope Kate will reappear soon. Kate has been away now much longer than she had originally intended. That is worrisome. I agreed with the police officer that I will give Kate a further week and then I will report Kate as a missing person.

I had vacuumed through the house while Max was at nursery school. Social services may come whenever they wish.

Max rushed out from nursery school clutching a piece of artwork. With the police officer and Miss Brown watching us, Max took my hand.

Max commented artfully that mummy usually takes Max to the sweet shop after nursery school. I suspected that Max was trying it on, but I decided to give in this time.

We can buy the sweets now, but we must have lunch before we eat them.”

Max did not exactly consent, but he led me to the sweet shop.

I have not been in a sweet shop since Susie was nine or ten years old. This sweet shop is distinctly short of the glass jars on shelves that I remember but it has open trays of cheap brightly coloured tooth-rotters and a wide variety of chocolate. There is an ice cream chest freezer, but it is not doing much business.

We had a negotiation where Max wildly exaggerated Kate’s usual expenditure on sweets. I stuck to what I remembered Sal had allowed our children when aged four, based upon articles for consumption rather than price. I accepted there must have been some price inflation in sweets over the intervening decades.

Max became a bit rough in his bargaining, combining tears and stamping his foot. This is familiar territory for me, having raised two children. Eventually I mused aloud that if Max and I could not agree then we would give buying sweets a miss today, and see if we felt like buying sweets tomorrow.

We reached a compromise where I bought a small chocolate bar for after lunch but Max is allowed a piece of it now. I agreed that the chocolate bar is all for Max and that Max will not have to share any of it with me.

Max was obviously surprised at the suggestion that he should share his chocolate bar with me.

Max could live with agreeing in principle to offer to share his sweets provided that in practice I decline. I think that is quite sophisticated for four years of age.

Both of us walked back to my house with a feeling that the negotiations had been satisfactory. We held hands walking back.

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