The one thing that did catch Mark by surprise was the appearance of Johnny at the house that evening.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Dad?” he asked.
“I’m playing with my great-grandson,” Mark responded, “and please temper your language around the boy.” Just then Krit, having heard the shouting, came in and picked up Ian, taking him up to get ready for bed.
“Your great-grandson. Is that the wog brat that my son is supposed to have adopted?”
“Johnny, there is no supposed about it. Your son did adopt Ian, so he is my great-grandson.”
“Well if either of that pair think they have a claim on me they can forget it.”
“Do you mean you’re disowning your son and grandson?” Mark asked.
“He’s a bloody pervert and that thing,” he nodded in the direction that Krit had carried off Ian, “is a half-caste wog.
“Anyway, enough about that, what’s this about you firing Dale and his fellow directors and putting new people in at Bettridge’s?”
“You’ve got it all wrong I did not fire them, they resigned,” Mark stated.
“Only because they had no bloody choice. Why, everything was going perfectly. Taiosheti had already expressed interest in buying, and we could have closed the factory within a year and redeveloped the land.”
Mark noted the name of one of their major overseas rivals.
“Look, Dad,” Johnny continued, “I’m sure you can still do a deal with Taiosheti. Just get Dale back; he’s got it all worked out.”
“There is no need. We are merging with Mattashion’s. Their automotive engineering division will be moved here, and we will move out the aero engineering work to them. Of course, we will have to expand the works a bit, but it is doable.”
“You mean to keep the works going?”
“Of course. We owe it to the workers.”
“Fuck the workers. You’ll ruin me; I’ve invested loads in buying land around the site.”
“So, I could make some money when the works closed.”
Johnny stormed out, leaving Mark puzzled. Through the window he saw his son get into his car and drive off. Mark slumped in his seat, muttering to himself, “I don’t understand it, I simply don’t understand it.” The idea that you would sacrifice people’s livelihoods just to make money was to Mark totally incomprehensible.
“I can understand.” Mark looked up and saw Tim standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “Sorry, Granddad, but I could not help listening.”
“The way Johnny was shouting I think the neighbours could not help listening, but what can you understand?”
“Ruth said Mummy was worried because dad had been borrowing heavily to speculate on some land deal. He keeps saying he is going to make a killing once the works are out of the way.”
“But how, Tim?” Mark questioned. “All right I suppose they could redevelop the site for housing. But that would need a massive investment: there’s a couple of hundred years of industrial pollution which would have to be cleared up. I can’t see how the gain from it. The cost would be more than the value of the business if you keep it running.”
Tim walked over and sat down next to his grandfather’s chair. “That may be the case, Granddad, but what about that wasteland between the works and the motorway? There’s quite a lot of it.”
“Yes, that’s old agricultural land that was cut off by the motorway. There was supposed to be an underpass to connect it to the old road, but the funding was not there so they scrapped it. A couple of people have looked at redeveloping it but there is no viable access. The motorway runs along one side and our works is on the other and the cut is along the bottom. There is only that narrow track-way along the back of the mill yard that gives access and there is no way to improve that.”
“Yes, but if the works weren’t there?”
“Christ, the site would be worth a fortune. I wonder who owns it?” Mark asked.
“I think I could guess?” responded Tim.
The following morning Mark phoned his solicitors and spoke with James, instructing him to find out who were the beneficial owners of the land behind the works. It took James a few days but he came back with the information that there were four companies who had been buying up plots of the land as they came up for sale. One was owned outright by Johnny and the other three were different combinations of Johnny and the three ex-directors of Bettridge’s. James also came up with the information that Johnny was in debt to the sum of some one and half million, most of which, it appeared, had been used to buy the land in question.
News of the coup at Bettridge’s quickly got to the press and questions started. Mark spoke to Paul and then to George, and they decided to make an announcement of the proposed merger. Mark was interested to note that the day after the announcement the share price of Taiosheti dropped.
He was, though, somewhat annoyed when he received a telephone call from the UK representative of Taiosheti asking him what was going on.
“Look,” the chap said, “we had an understanding that you would sell us the business.”
“I don’t know who you had the understanding with but it was certainly not me,” Mark stated, “and I own the company.”
“Your son assured us that there would be no problems. If we had not had that assurance, given in your name, we would not have provided the financing he sought for land purchases.”
“My son certainly had no grounds to give you those assurances and certainly not in my name. He has at no time had any involvement with Bettridge’s and will not have at any time in the future.”
“Are you repudiating your son?”
“Well, he has repudiated his son and grandson, so I see no reason why not,” Mark responded.
“But we provided funds based on those assurances.”
“If you have based financial transactions on assurances given to you by my son, I suggest you take that matter up with the police.” With that Mark put down the phone. He was fairly certain they would not go to the police because the loss of face for them would be too much.
A few days later Ruth phoned her brother; she and Tim were on the landline for over an hour and when Tim came through to the lounge he was looking worried.
“Bad news?” Mark asked.
“Ruth’s been over visiting Mummy, and it looks as if things are in a fairly bad way. Dad’s told Mummy that they may have to sell the Highgate house and maybe the farm as well. Of course, that has upset Ruth,” Tim reported. Mark could understand Ruth being upset. She and her husband had taken a small hobby farm Johnny had purchased years ago on a whim and turned it into a highly successful stud farm.
“Oh,” Tim continued, “I’ve had an email from Paul. He asks if we could go into the office tomorrow as he wants to go over a couple of things. He’s got a meeting with George on Monday and wants our, or to be precise, your OK before he raises things with George.”
“But tomorrow is Saturday,” Mark stated.
“Yes, and I think Paul will be working on Sunday as well.”
“OK, tell him we’ll be there at eleven. I promised Ian we could go and get him a football in the morning, so I will have to do that first.”
As he had half expected, Mark found himself being woken by an excited three-and-a-half-year-old shouting, “Bpòo, football”. He rolled over and looked at his clock and noted it was only ten past six. Patting the bed beside him indicating that Ian could climb up onto the bed, Mark pointed to the clock. “Too early, wake up seven-thirty, still over one hour. Pattanapong sleep.”
The boy knew he was in trouble, bpòo only used his Thai name when he was in trouble. He looked at his bpòo and said, “OK”, then curled up to go to sleep. Mark would have preferred him to go back to his own bed to sleep but accepted this was probably the best he could get, so pulled a cover over the boy and turned on his side to try and get some more sleep.
Later, Krit drove Mark and Ian into town so Mark could buy the football and then dropped Mark off by the works before taking Ian to the park to try out his new football.
Tim was already chatting to Paul when Mark entered the board room. He looked up. “Did you get the football?”
“Yes. Krit’s taken him to the park to try it out,” Mark responded.
“I knew there was some good reason for coming into work today,” Tim quipped.
“So, Paul, what is it you want to discuss with us?”
“There are a few things I need to run them past you before I raise them with George. There is also one item which just involves you.”
“Let’s get that out of the way, then.”
“Dale and his mates had issued redundancy notices to The Sergeant and all his security boys. They are supposed to finish on the 31st of December, to be replaced by roving patrols from G4S.”
“I hope you have cancelled the redundancy notices?”
“Yes, Mark, I have, but the question now is what do we do about G4S. We have a contract with them with heavy penalty clauses.”
“Let me have details, but we will probably have to pay them. There is no way we can use G4S roving patrols for security here,” Mark instructed Paul.
“I know you’ve made the decision, but can you tell me why we can’t use G4S?” Tim asked.
“From time to time we do highly classified work for people like QunetiQ. Some of the contracts, mostly Ministry of Defence ones, state that we must maintain adequate twenty-four-hour onsite security with an armed response capability if required,” Mark informed him.
“Do you mean our security chaps could be armed on occasions?”
“Oh yes, Tim,” Paul replied. “All of them are weapon trained and are mostly ex-marines with a couple from the RAF Regiment. The Sergeant has quite a nice arsenal down in the basement.”
“I must ask for a tour one day,” Tim stated.
“No way! The only people allowed in there are Home Office authorised parties. Even the directors are not allowed in. I don’t even know what they’ve got down there, though the Sergeant did assure me that in a push they could hold off anything less than a tank for long enough for the nasty boys to get here.” Tim decided he probably did not want to know the answer to any further questions, especially as to who the nasty boys were.
They discussed a number of issues and approved the ideas that Paul was going to put to George, mostly about what department should move where on the merger and what facilities would be needed for the departments that would move from Derby to Sheffield. Also, with the help of a site plan, they worked out the reorganization of the departments that would still be in Sheffield or would move there and how to locate them on the site.
“The big problem,” Paul stated, “is Special Finishes. It makes sense for that to come over with Automotive Engineering, but we do not even have a paint shop let alone the facilities that SF needs. It looks as if we are going to have to build a new facility for it, but where?”
“Logically it should be next to AE, as I suspect most of its work will come through that department,” Mark commented.
“Mostly, though, there will be a bit from Aerospace in Derby. Unfortunately, if we put it next to AE, we will have to build here, and we are already short of parking space,” Paul responded.
“Couldn’t we use this area for parking,” Tim pointed to an area of open space on the site plan between the foundry and the boundary wall on the motorway side of the site. “It looks bigger than the two car parks.”
“It is, but the problem is there is no access,” Paul responded. The three men looked at the plan for a couple of minutes.
“You know,” Mark stated, “if we demolished the Shot House and built an access road there, we could move the car parks, and then we would have space at the front to expand the offices, Design and Development and for Special Finishes.”
“What’s the Shot House?” Tim asked. George pointed to a long narrow building along the bottom of the site.
“That’s the Shot House; it used to be used for proving guns when this place was a gunsmith's. Now it it is used for Bertha,” George informed him.
“Who is Bertha?”
“Bertha,” Paul supplied, “is a twenty-metre long high velocity gas gun. It is used to fire projectiles at targets to do impact assessments. The thing is, we do not do very much of that now and haven’t for years. There is a much better set up with more modern equipment at Mattashion, so it really makes sense to move all impact assessment work over to Derby.”
“So,” Mark stated, “we demolish the Shot House and move the car park. Then we can build at the front over the existing car parks. We will need to keep a small space out front for visitor parking. I think you might want to go over the plans again, Paul. With this option there might be some better solutions you can come up with.” Paul nodded and started to fold up the site plan.
Later that evening, Tim, Krit, and Mark were sitting in the lounge half-heartedly watching some programme on the television when a thought struck Tim.
“Granddad, about demolishing the Shot House.”
“Yes, Tim?” Mark replied.
“Well, you could put a pretty wide road in there and if we extended it a few metres past where the new car park would end, it would give access to that wasteland.”
“Yes, Tim, it would. The construction of a road along the bottom of the site could make a big difference to that parcel of land.” Mark observed.
“So Dad may not be in as much trouble as he thinks he is.”
“That, Tim, depends on when he finds out, and I hope you will not tell him about the plan for the access road and how long it will take for us to be in a position to build it,” Mark responded.
“Christ, Granddad, there is no way I’m going to speak with Dad. I haven’t spoken to him since he called me a wog-loving queer and told me to get out and not come back.”
Mark let the idea of extending the access road rattle around in his brain for a few days, then phoned James and the young lady from his accountants and asked for a meeting.
The Friday after the meeting with Paul, Mark was in the kitchen preparing Ian’s tea when Tim came in through the back door. Mark was surprised by Tim’s appearance. He was wearing a pair of workmen’s overalls, heavy safety boots, all covered in what appeared to be fine black powder as was his face except for a couple of white circles over his eyes where he had clearly been wearing safety glasses.
“Tim!” Mark exclaimed. “What have you been up to?”
“Sorry, Granddad, I’m just going to the mud room to shower off. Could you get me my dressing gown from my room for me? Better that than walking through the house in a towel.” With that Tim slipped into the utility room and Mark heard the shower start up in the mud room. He went upstairs to get Tim’s dressing gown for him.
Some twenty minutes later they sat at the kitchen table with a mug of tea each. Ian was outside in the garden kicking his football around, and Mark was keeping an eye on the boy through the kitchen window.
“So, what have you been up to, to get into that sort of mess?” Mark asked, though he thought he had a pretty good idea.
“Oh, I’ve spent the day in the foundry, Granddad. Barry has been showing me how the process works.” Mark’s guess at his grandson’s state was correct, and he remembered being in the same state when he had done his stint in the foundry during his apprenticeship.
“I guessed as much, but why? Shouldn’t you have been at the uni?”
“It’s OK, Granddad, I’ve shifted my sessions around at uni so I only have to go in Monday to Wednesday and the odd Thursday morning. I’m trying to spend Thursday and Friday at the works.”
“Well, if I am going to be a director, I think I need to know what is going on and what Bettridge’s does. Paul’s arranged it so I can spend time on the shop floor being shown what they are doing. Now the reports I am seeing are making a lot more sense.”
“Fine, just so long as you don’t let it get in the way of your studies,” Mark commented.
“Actually, Granddad, that is something I wanted to talk to you about. I’m thinking of ditching my PhD, at least as a full-time study,” Tim informed Mark.
“To be honest, I only went in to do it because I could not think of anything else to do. I can get my Master's this academic year. In fact, I have most of my Master’s dissertation drafted already.
“I am enjoying studying but I do not need to be in the university to study in my area. To be honest I tend to do more of my work here than in uni. Also, I am not finding academic life that pleasant. There is too much politicking going on in the department and between faculties.
“There is no time limit on me doing my PhD so long as I stay registered with the department. It’s not as if my supervisor can give me much help on my research. I’m not even sure if he knows what the internet is, never mind the World Wide Web.”
“What is your research area?” Mark asked.
“The impact of Web-based fiction on the development of the English language. There was a view put forward in the late nineties that the development of the Web would lead to the development of a single universal version of English and that English English, American English, and Australian English, together with the other versions of English, would merge into a single universal English.
“Well, that does not appear to have happened. If anything, Granddad, the web is supporting and maintaining local versions of English. It is even enabling writers in very local dialects to get published and for their work to be followed. In many ways the web is an enabling tool for local dialects and versions of English.”
“Sounds like a fascinating area,” Mark commented.
“It is, Granddad; the thing is I am also finding Bettridge’s to be fascinating. I never realised just what went on there. Dad always said it was dirty, nasty place and the men working there were idiots who could not make anything of their lives. Paul’s shown me another side of the business, and it is fascinating. I never realised how interdependent the parts of the business are, nor how skilled the men are.
“Christ, when I was in the foundry today, Barry was talking about the history of lost wax casting. Do you know there is evidence of the process from over five thousand years ago? It was fascinating to listen to Barry talk about the work of the ancient Greek artists and their bronze casting and also about Indian and African Art. Apparently even the Aztecs used the method.
“Granddad, Dad always made the workmen in the works sound like idiots; they are not. They are just as clever as any of us at uni, if not more so. They can make things and put ideas into practice, and that’s a lot more than many of us at the university can do. We just sit about and argue about things a lot of the time.”
“Tim, although I agree with a lot of what you say, don’t dismiss academia so lightly. I think you are putting up an argument to support a decision you have already made. Am I correct?” Mark asked.
“Yes, Granddad. The last few weeks I have been finding out about what goes on in Bettridge’s and talking with Paul. Paul asked me if I would consider working as his assistant. Basically somebody who can be on the spot for him in Sheffield when he has to be over in Derby. He already has somebody in Derby doing it for him.”
“And you want to do it?”
“Do it then. It sounds like a good idea, but make sure you keep your PhD going.”
“I will, Granddad, and I will try to do it quicker than Brian May did.” Mark was amused with the reference to the guitarist from Queen who had taken over thirty years to complete his PhD thesis. The important thing though, thought Mark, was that May had completed it.
Thomas and Connor had been coming up from London fairly regularly to work on the Midget. From what Mark had been able to see they were making slow but steady progress on the restoration. Mark also noted that Jeff quite often turned up on a Saturday to give them a hand. “Better than being out shopping with the missis,” Jeff had responded once when Mark had commented on his presence.
At the end of term, the boys came up to spend a week at Mark’s before taking him over to Walsall for Christmas. There were a couple of big jobs they wanted to get done on the Midget before the start of the really cold weather when they would not be able to have the garage door open whilst working. Krit, Tim, and Ian would not be with them for Christmas as they were going to Thailand for the holiday. Both Krit and Tim felt it was important for Ian to keep in touch with his Thai roots. Mark agreed with them.
Copyright © 2016 Nigel Gordon – All rights reserved.