Late one Thursday afternoon in August, Mark was sitting at the dining table with Tara going over a seed catalogue and discussing the planting for next year when the Tucson turned into the drive. The two boys jumped out and came running into the house.
"Uncle Mark, Uncle Mark!" they were calling.
"In here," Mark called back and then turned to Tara and asked her to make some coffee for them. The boys ran into the dining room, clearly very happy.
"We did it," announced Thomas.
"Did what?" asked Mark, although he guessed what it was.
"Got the grades," Connor responded.
"So, what did you get?" Mark queried.
"I got two As and an A star," Connor stated.
"And I got A star in Biology, A in Chemistry, A in Physics and A star in Maths," Thomas added.
"Ah, so you didn't mess up on the Maths paper," Mark commented.
"No," Thomas responded. "I was the only one in our sixth to get an A star in Maths."
"So that is two A stars and two As," Mark summarized, "enough for University College London?"
"Yes, UCL confirmed both offers today and we have accepted. Going down to London on Monday to sort out accommodation."
"No, you're not," Mark stated.
"What?" both boys responded.
"You can stay here tonight, and we'll go down to London in the morning. I've got a place where you can live," Mark told them, and then he called to Tara to bring his laptop through, so he could book tickets. He also asked her if she could drive them to the station in the morning and pick them up in the evening. Connor objected, saying he could use the Tucson and park it by the station.
"Connor," he responded, "it is cheaper for me to pay Tara to drive us in and pick us up than it is to park in Q-Park, especially as I have to pay her for the day anyway." Mark then got online and booked tickets for them for the next day. Fortunately, ever since Thomas had originally stayed with Mark, both boys had kept some clothes and toiletries in what they considered to be their room.
When they arrived at St Pancras the following morning, Mark got a taxi to take them to a block of 1930s flats in Weymouth Street. He took them up to a flat on the second floor.
"Will this do you, boys?"
"Christ! Yes," replied Connor, "but can we afford it?"
"You don't have to. I own it, or at least I own the lease, have done for forty years. Renewed it recently for another ninety years."
"Did you live here?" Thomas asked.
"Not really, but at one time I was down in London for three or four days every couple of weeks, so it made sense to have a place down here. We did think of selling at one time, but Joan got into Royal Holloway and it made sense for her to use it. The family used it for trips to London and weekend get-togethers till my wife died. Then we let it. So as long as you are studying in London you might as well use it. The only thing you need to pay is the Council Tax and the utilities, and I think your allowances will cover those. By the way, I will be increasing those from the start of term to two hundred a week. London can be expensive, and you'll have text books to buy."
Later that day, back in his room in Walsall, Connor turned to Thomas and asked, "Why does Uncle Mark do this for us? I know you told me about Ian but there is something more."
"I don't know," Thomas replied. "At first, I thought it was all about Ian, but now I'm not so sure. Sometimes I think he is trying to make up for something he has not had – I suppose with his family all moving away he has missed grandchildren and sort of adopted us."
Connor thought about this for a moment, then smiled. "Maybe you're right." He reached up and pulled Thomas down beside him. "You do realise that once we are in London, we will be able to share a bed."
"Bloody right we will. It been a pain having to wait till your parents and sister are all out of the house at the same time or for when we went over to Sheffield," Thomas stated.
"Well they are all out of the house now."
Even though he had made a good recovery, Mark was clearly not up to the annual trip down to Spain, and Krit and Tim had to go Thailand in any case so would not be able to take him. Both Thomas and Connor insisted that if Uncle Mark was not going, they were not going. They would stay with Uncle Mark instead, and so the last Sunday in August they arrived at the house in Sheffield.
"I don't know why you two did not go down to Spain. There's not much for you here."
"You're here Uncle Mark," Connor commented. "You made Spain fun, and let's admit it that villa is a bit in the back of beyond, even by Spanish standards. There is only so much swimming in the pool and lounging on the terrace one can do. If it wasn't for the chats that we had with you, we would have been bored out of our minds most of the time."
"I'm not so sure. I am sure you two would have found something to do with each other. The question is what are you going to do here for the next ten days. There is no pool, and given the English weather, I doubt if lounging on the terrace is all that good an option."
"Well, we could start to sort out the attic and box rooms for you," Thomas stated. "You've been saying for the last three years that you should get it sorted out, so now's the chance."
The following day the boys started bringing down boxes from the attic and into the utility room, opening them to go through the contents with Mark sitting at the table, directing them as to what was to go where. By the end of the day, they had three boxes of stuff to go to the charity shop, some bags of rubbish to take to the tip, and a number of half-full boxes intended for various family members. There was also a small pile of stuff to keep.
The process continued the second day and on into the third day, though by now they had moved from bringing stuff down from the attic to going through the small box room on the first floor. It was in one of the many suitcases stacked in that room they found the photo album.
"Bloody hell!" Mark exclaimed, "I didn't know I had that."
"What is it?" Thomas asked.
"It's Mother's photo album. I thought it must have been lost. My wife must have packed it away when my mother died." Mark opened the album, turning the pages slowly, looking at the photos and telling the boys stories about them. Then he turned a page, stopped, and went quiet.
Thomas looked at the page, where there was a set of photos of two boys, about thirteen or fourteen, on a beach. Thomas guessed from baggy swimming trunks they were wearing and the dresses the women in some of the pictures were wearing that it was probably about the mid-1950s. In the middle of the page were two portraits of the two boys, each about six by eight centimetres. It was when he looked at the one on the right that Thomas realised it was Mark, and then made the connection.
"That's Ian, isn't it?" he asked, pointing to the other photo. Mark nodded, a tear running down his cheek.
"Connor," Thomas asked, "can you take Uncle Mark to the living room and get him a drink?"
Connor helped Mark to his feet and guided him to the living room. Just as they were going through the door Mark turned to Thomas. "I didn't know there were any photos of him."
Thomas went to one of the boxes of stuff for the charity shop and found an eight by ten-inch photo frame and then carefully removed the photo of Ian from the mounts that held it in the album. As he went through to Mark's office, he popped his head through the door of the living room to check that Mark was all right. Once Connor had assured him that everything was fine, he went on to the office. Ten minutes later he returned the photo to the album and then went to the living room and handed Mark the photo frame which now contained an enlarged picture of Ian.
"I scanned it and printed it out, thought it would be better for you like this than in the album," Thomas said.
"Thanks, it is." Mark took the frame and stood it on the table by the side of the fire, the one opposite the chair he normally sat in. "Connor, would you mind going and fetching the photo album for me?" Connor stood and left, returning shortly after with the album. Mark took it from him and opened it up to the pages with the photos of him and Ian.
"These were taken in July 1956. I was fourteen in the August, and Ian would be fifteen in the September. It was the last holiday we had together. Dad had just been promoted and so had Ian's father. They decided to splash out, and the two families went to Butlin's Skegness for a fortnight." He then proceeded to tell the boys all about the holiday, which he seemed able to recall in every detail and which led to him telling them about how he had got to know Ian and what they had done whilst at school. Thomas noticed, though, that Mark did not tell Connor about Ian's end.
In the early hours of the following morning, Thomas found himself disturbed and awake. Looking around in the darkness of the room, he could make out the shape of Connor fast asleep next to him. Then he noticed the faint glimmer of light coming from under the bedroom door. Thomas slipped out of bed and found the pair of flip-flops he wore around the house instead of slippers and got his dressing gown off its hook on the bedroom door, slipping it around his naked form.
Ever since he had first come to this house, with his legs in plaster, the ground floor guest bedroom had been first his room and then his and Connor's room. The door opened out into the corridor that ran the length of the house. Looking into the corridor Thomas saw the source of the light. The living room door was open and the light in the room was on. Thomas made his way down the corridor and into the living room where Mark sat on the floor, the photo frame held to his chest, crying.
Thomas crossed the room and stood by Mark. Mark looked up. "I never told him," he stated.
"Told him what?" Thomas asked.
"Never mind, it's too late now and it was a long time ago."
Thomas nodded. "Come on, Uncle Mark, let's go to the kitchen. It's a bit warmer in there and I can make you a nice mug of cocoa." Mark got up with a bit of help from Thomas and followed him into the kitchen, still holding the photo frame.
A few weeks before Christmas, Krit and Tim informed Mark that they needed to make an urgent trip to Thailand and were not certain how long they would be away. They did say they hoped to be back by Christmas. The following day Thomas phoned Mark to say that he and Connor would be coming up to stay with Mark over the Christmas vac., and that they would take Mark over to Walsall for the actual Christmas holidays.
Early on the 23rd, when Mark had only just got up and there was no sign of the boys, the phone rang. Mark answered it. The call was from Tim asking to speak to Thomas. Mark called him, and a few moments later a very sleepy Thomas came through to the kitchen and took the phone.
"Hi," he said, then paused listening to what Tim was saying.
"No problem Tim, I'll be there in about twenty minutes." He put the phone down. "Uncle Mark, could you make me a coffee whilst I dress. I've got to pick Tim and Krit up from the station." Mark threw some Aroma Rot into the cafetiere and then added water that had just gone off the boil. By time Mark re-appeared, this time dressed, it was just long enough for the coffee to brew. Thomas took the cafetiere and pushed down the plunger, then poured out a mug of coffee into which he threw three sugars.
"A bit excessive on the sugar, aren't you?" Mark commented.
"I suspect I'm going to need the energy," Thomas responded. Connor is still asleep; can you tell him where I've gone when he wakes?" Mark confirmed he would, and then Thomas slurped down the coffee, grabbed the keys for the Tucson, and shot out of the door.
Mark continued to sort out some breakfast. About twenty minutes later, Connor came into the kitchen asking where Thomas was. Mark told him what had happened.
"Oh," said Connor as he looked up at the kitchen clock. "Halford's won't be open yet so it will be a bit before they get back."
"What has Halford's got to do with picking up Tim and Krit from the station?" Mark asked.
"Connor, is there anything I should know?"
"You will when you need to. I'd better go and get dressed." With that, Connor grabbed a mug of coffee and went back to their room. Mark got the distinct impression that everybody knew something that he did not and really should.
Connor returned to the kitchen about fifteen minutes later, washed and dressed. Mark noticed he was on edge and that whilst he was eating his breakfast he kept looking out of the window at the drive. It was sometime later that the Tucson finally pulled into the drive. By then Connor had finished his breakfast, washed up, and cleaned the kitchen.
Mark was reading his morning paper by then and heard the crunch of the car on the gravel. He looked out the window to see the car pull to a stop. Krit got out of the rear passenger side door, then walked around the car to open the other rear door. He seemed to be trying to get something out of the rear of the car. That something soon materialised into a small child. A small procession formed up with Thomas in the lead, followed by Tim and Krit, the latter carrying the child.
As they entered the house, Thomas fell back so it was Tim who led the way into the kitchen. "Hi, Granddad, can I introduce our son Pattanapong." Thomas looked at the boy who he guessed must have been about two or two and a half years old.
"Well, technically he's Krit's son until we can get a UK adoption sorted out. Krit has adopted him in Thailand but since they do not recognise same-sex partnerships yet, we could not adopt him as a couple. As soon as we can sort things out on this end, we will."
Mark held his arms out to Krit who handed Pattanapong over to him. The boy snuggled his head against Mark's shoulder and Mark looked down at his face. "Are you comfortable, Pattanapong?" he asked. The boy looked at him blankly, Tim said something in Thai and the boy nodded.
"You know, Tim, you and Krit need to come up with an English name for him or he will get teased to hell at school with a name like Pattanapong," Mark observed.
"Why don't you name him?" Krit suggested. "You're going to be his great-grandfather after all."
Mark looked at the boy, then up at Krit. "Thank you. Call him Ian." Thomas and Connor looked at each other, each wondering if Tim and Krit knew about Ian?
"So, Tim, you and Krit had better tell me how I've become a great-grandfather."
"Ian," Krit stated, using the boy's new English name, "is the son of my cousin Dok Rak. She was in a relationship with an American man, somewhat older. Dok Rak was supposed to be on contraception—she had problems with the pill and so had an IUD— but unfortunately it failed and she became pregnant. When she did, her American left her.
"Now Dok Rak has a new Thai boyfriend from a very good, very conservative family. They do not want a luk khrueng in the family…"
"Luk what?" Mark interrupted.
"Sorry," Krit continued, "luk khrueng, literally half-child, a term for a mixed-race child, specifically a Eurasian child. Amongst the older and more conservative members of Thai society, like Dok Rak's boyfriend's family, it is seen as something to be ashamed of. However, amongst many younger Thai luk khruengs are seen as something to be looked up to and appreciated. They are seen as the new race, the people of the future.
"When we were out there in August, we learnt that Dok Rak's boyfriend wanted to marry her but did not want Ian as part of the deal, so we offered to adopt him. It has not been easy, for Thailand does not recognise civil partnerships or same-sex marriages. So, I had to adopt Dok Rak as an individual, which is difficult to do in Thailand. However, both my family and the family of Dok Rak's boyfriend are highly influential, so it was possible to arrange.
"We learnt that the final obstacles had been cleared up in November, so we had to go out and finish the formalities for me to adopt Ian. As it was an adoption within the family and did not involve the governmental organisations it was a bit easier, but there were still a lot of formalities to go through if I was to be able to bring Ian back to England with me."
"So," Tim interjected, "Pattanapong is now Pattanapong Meesang and as soon as we can get the formalities arranged, he will become Ian Pattanapong Meesang-Wainwright, though it is probably best we call him Ian from now on, so he gets used to it."
"I suppose you two knew all about it?" Mark stated, looking at Thomas and Connor.
"Well, not all," Thomas explained. "We knew they were hoping to adopt but had been asked not to say anything in case it fell through."
"Well, it has worked out," Mark commented, "and for the best, so we now have another Wainwright, or to be correct Meesang-Wainwright in the family. You do realise that this means we need to sort out Christmas presents for the boy, and there is no way we can go over to Walsall. He's had enough moving around in the last few days, so we'll do Christmas here."
Connor immediately got on the phone to his mother to explain about the change of plans and why it would not be possible for them to come to Walsall that Christmas.
"Connor," his mother shouted, loud enough so even Mark could hear it from the phone, "I've got all the food ready."
"Tell them to put the food in the car and come over here," Mark called to Connor. "They can stay here for the holiday for a change — after all, with seven bedrooms, we've got the room." Connor did, and after some discussion and the multiple passing of the phone from Connor to Mark and at the other end from Mary to Terry, it was agreed.
The rest of the day was quite hectic. The boys were sent out to get a Christmas tree, decorations, and a pile of presents for little Ian. Mark just gave them one of his credit cards and told them they could keep spending till they hit the limit. Fortunately, he did not tell them the limit on that card was twenty thousand and that he'd just cleared the previous month's balance.
A series for further phone calls to Mary established what she would be bringing over tomorrow, and they made a list of what else was required. Tim was dispatched to the supermarket with yet another of Mark's credit cards. Once he and the boys were back, the boys and Krit were despatched to buy a bed suitable for little Ian and everything else that would be required for a boy's room. Tim had to stay behind so there was somebody in the house who could speak Thai. Little Ian, though, seemed quite content to hang onto his new great-grandfather, who was starting to teach the boy the English names for things. It would take somebody else to teach the boy the meaning of NO.
Mary and Terry with the now not so little Shelly arrived just after lunch on Christmas eve, with Mary making a bee-line for little Ian, who quite rightly decided the best place to be was standing behind his great-grandfather's legs. He was quickly drawn out of that position by the traditional enticement for small boys, a lollipop, which Mary had brought with her.
On Christmas day little Ian was presented with a pile of presents, and really enjoyed playing with the boxes they came in. Better still, the boy enjoyed sitting on his great-grandfather's lap and chatting away with him. The pair of them having established a language between them which no one else was capable of understanding but suited their purpose perfectly. Though Tim did come to suspect that the word 'oys' meant Thomas and Connor, who seemed to spend their whole day running errands to keep the small boy happy.
The formal adoption of Ian by Tim did not go smoothly. Eventually, at the end of April, after yet another delay with nothing appearing to happen, Mark phoned Ms Henley, working on the basis that she owed him a favour after him helping out with Thomas. Actually, since then Mark and Ms Henley had become, if not friends, at least acquaintances who spoke if they met at one or another at the functions which Mark had to attend from time to time. Whenever they did meet, she always enquired about Thomas and seemed pleased with the news of his progress. So, one afternoon Mark phoned her and explained the situation with regard to little Ian.
The following afternoon Ms Henley called round at the house. Once the pleasantries of such occasions had been dealt with and they were seated at the kitchen table, Ms Henley started to inform Mark about the current situation with little Ian.
"Unfortunately, Mr Wainwright," she began, "there are still some in my profession who are somewhat opposed to gay men adopting. As this is a private adoption within the family your grandson's lawyers have been using a private agency to prepare the required reports and assessments. This should be a formality, but it appears that some of the reports submitted to the court have been worded in a way that is not particularly helpful."
"For a start, they state that your grandson went out to Thailand and whilst there entered into a relationship with a local of the same sex. What is not stated is that your grandson was at the time a minor of seventeen years and younger than the local he entered into a relationship with or the fact that the said local is now his husband and the adoptive parent of the child in question. You can see how such a statement is at one and the same time perfectly accurate but gives a totally wrong impression." Mark nodded, not daring to say anything given the wrath that was welling up inside him. Fortunately, just then Ian ran into the room calling out "bpòo, bpòo, bath." Tara followed him in and picked him up.
"Bpòo is busy Ian, he can't bath you." She turned to Mark, "Sorry, the moment I said bath he ran to you."
"That's OK, Tara, he knows I usually help you with his bath." He turned to the boy. "Now Ian Pattanapong, go and let Tara bathe you, we don't want a pongy Pattanapong, I'll read you a story afterwards." The boy nodded, putting his arms around Tara's neck as she carried him out.
"Does Tara look after Ian?" Ms Henley asked.
"Yes, at least during the day when Krit and Tim are out. She's been a godsend."
"Interesting, as the report states that there is a question about the availability of childcare given that Tim is a student and at University most of the day. It says, to quote, 'it would appear that the provision of childcare is left to the applicant's elderly grandparent who is not in the best of health'. That statement is accurate to an extent but fails to provide vital information—there is no mention of Tara or your housekeeper, though I recall you had one when I approved the arrangements for Thomas."
"Yes, Mrs Wright. I still have her," Mark confirmed, "and she's been with me for years. We are having a battle to see who will outlast the other."
"Yes, I thought so, but again, it's been omitted. It might just be a bit of sloppy report preparation, but I don't think so. We also have this part, 'the applicant is a student who does not have any current employment and states that he has no plans to enter employment in the near future'. Is that correct?"
"Well, yes, Tim does not need to be employed. I've set up a trust for him which will support him in full-time education for the next ten years if he needs it or until he gets his Ph.D., which he says he wants to go for."
"How much does it give him for maintenance expenses?" Ms Henley asked.
"Twenty-six thousand a year, not that he needs it. Krit could support him and would."
"I know—another omission in the report. It just states that the child's adoptive father is a Thai immigrant to this country. It does not say he is a qualified doctor or a member of a highly rated medical research team at the university."
"So Tim's being fucked up?"
"I think that is quite an appropriate description of the situation. It is not the first time I have come across such problems with some of these private adoption services. Unfortunately, although your grandson's lawyers have appointed them, legally their duty is to the court and they submit their reports to the court."
"So, Tim had better get a new adoption service in?"
"Unfortunately, Mr Wainwright, it is not that easy. As this is a private adoption you have to get the assessments done privately for the courts, but the courts have to approve the adoption service supplying them. To change adoption services would mean getting the court to approve a new adoption service. To do that you would have to show that the current adoption service is failing, which would look bad for your grandson as it was at his request, they were appointed in the first place. We are technically not involved, so don't get involved in the assessments. However, should a matter of concern be raised over the safety of the child in question we can get involved." Mark looked at her questioningly. "I will log your call as an anonymous call regarding the safety of the child. My visit here today is to do an initial assessment of the situation."
She smiled at Mark and continued. "I will report that there is no reason for immediate concern but that I am worried about the long-term consequences of the delay in getting the child's status sorted out. The fact that we have done an assessment of the situation means that we have to advise the Family Court, given that there are proceedings concerning the child before the court. Once the court becomes aware that there is a Social Services interest in a case like this we are always invited to provide a full assessment report. I can assure you that, as I will be handling it, it will be full and accurate in every detail and I have no doubt that it will recommend that the application for adoption should be granted."
"Thank you, Ms Henley."
"No, thank you, Mr Wainwright. I always enjoy the opportunity to upset the bigots. Now maybe you should go and help your great-grandson to bathe."
Even with Ms Henley's assistance things still seemed to move very slowly through the Family Court, though they now appeared to be moving. The second Thursday in July was a very busy day for Tim. In the morning he and Krit had to attend the Family Court where the petition for adoption was finally approved and little Ian officially became Ian Pattanapong Meesang-Wainwright. In the afternoon Tim received his Bachelor of Arts Degree with First Class Honours in English.
The other event of that week was that Krit received British Citizenship. As this had actually been awarded three days before the adoption was finally formalized, Ian became entitled to register as a British Citizen upon the grant of adoption by the court, as legally both his parents were British Citizens at the time of his adoption in the UK. The first thing Tim and Krit did was complete the application for Ian's registration as a British Citizen.
Little Ian turned three at the beginning of August, an event Mark used to spoil the boy even more. Although Ian was now speaking English with the fluidity of any native-born three-year-old, he and his bpòo still communicated in the private language they had developed between them during his first few weeks in England. It seemed at times to Tim that there was a bond between the boy and the old man which was stronger than any of those between Mark and his children or even grandchildren. The only time he saw anything close to what he saw in Mark's eyes when he was playing with little Ian was sometimes when he looked at Thomas. It was as if he was remembering something from the long past, something that brought him happiness.
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon