An Italian boy in Camford Pt. 02byWittePiet©
Chapter Seven: Tokenham Collegiate church
In the early years of the twenty-first century, while Luke and his sister Cathy were still at school, on one summer holiday visiting Jon's developing woodlands, they found near the forest in Shropshire that Jon and Arthur Rockwell and Robin Banks had planted fifteen or so years before, the small hamlet of Tokeham. Near that small place of three houses stood the Collegiate Church of Saint Andrew. Adjoining the church, which was well outside the hamlet, were four ancient houses surrounding a courtyard. The small, early fifteenth-century church, which would hold perhaps a maximum of fifty people, was in a bad state of repair. Inside there were dilapidated box pews and walls disfigured by crude yellow eighteenth century plasterwork. Admittedly, the roof was watertight and the church had an organ, in a playable condition, but no organist.
Enquiry revealed that the houses were the residences of a Dean and three canons, and that the church was a royal peculiar. Further enquiry however, revealed that the Crown only controlled, via the Lord Chancellor's office the appointment of the canons and the maintenance of their houses via the Crown estates. There was no support or endowment for the maintenance of the church, not even the chancel, because it was not, and never had been, a parish church. In the past, the canons had usually been wealthy men, who had maintained the church at their own expense, but a resident canonry of Tokeham was now used as a sort of retirement home, where elderly clergy without much money could end their days peacefully. On average, one canon died each year. They took it in turns to say the daily office in the church, and on Sundays there was a congregation of about half a dozen souls, none of whom lived locally. Most of the canons were scholars, and occupied themselves with reading and writing.
David was excited by the discovery. "There'll never be a resident congregation, but if money were spent on it, the church could be made really beautiful. The chancel has seats for 20 canons, although there has never been more than three plus the dean since the Reformation. But we could use the church as the seat of a new choir singing church music, if only we could get about a dozen volunteers with the right mix of voices."
Several years after this, when he had finally found time, David set about realizing this aspiration. He resolved to trace the Dean, and see if he was interested. He found the Dean of Tokeham via his godfather, Professor Edward Bairstow, who knew him. The dean was an elderly but very lively man and gave David a free hand to try and recruit a choir. David also said that he would try and find resources to fund a restoration of the church building. He contacted the director of music at Worcester Cathedral, who had been Organ Scholar when he had been in the Boni's Chapel choir. He asked him if he knew any amateur, part-time singers who might be interested in joining a new amateur choir, specializing in church music. They would need to live within sixty kilometres of Tokeham, but the church was not at present a suitable place for regular choir practices, so they would need to find a place in the nearest town, which was Worcester.
It took a couple of years to find the necessary people for a viable choir. There was the usual shortage of tenors and altos, but David persevered with the search, because he missed communal singing. Finally he was in a position, about the time that Sandro was moving into college, to call an initial meeting of all interested participants, which was fixed for a date at the end of October in Worcester. He decided to ask Marcello Fabioni, who though now very old, was still active, if he knew a professional musician who might like to take the unpaid job of choir director, without of course giving up his day job. Although David himself would have liked to do the job, his frequent absences abroad made it impossible.
Marcello suggested a man called Denis Hutchinson, who worked for the BBC. Not knowing him personally, David sent him an E-mail outlining his ideas and asking whether working on such a project was of any interest to him. Hutchison replied enthusiastically, and invited David to visit him at Broadcasting House in London. David explained that the project was two-fold: the renovation and revival of a historic building, and setting it to new use by an amateur choir with the highest international musical standards. Obviously in the early stages until the restoration of the church was complete, the choir would have to rehearse and perform elsewhere, but within five years, it should be possible to complete the project and add a new artistic landmark to the English musical scene.
The meeting took place, with David in the chair and Denis Hutchinson present to answer questions, and it was agreed that the first work to be performed would be at Christmas of the following year, and would be a Schubert mass. Shortly after the meeting, David was able to inform the choir members by letter that funding had been found to restore the church.
Chapter Eight: Jon's money
Jonathan was reviewing his financial situation. The property empire that he had inherited from his father had vastly increased under Tim Ingledown's expert trusteeship, and was now getting on in value towards several hundreds of millions. From the income that this brought in, Jon took about 25%, much of which was spent on maintenance of his and David's personal properties: the flat in Fountain Street, Rockwell's Barn, the flat in London and the houses in Heemstede, Madeira and Montecatini Terme, though he did pay a small allowance to Luke which was only double what he had paid him as a student. Another 40% went in tax. Ten percent went into a fund to support Cathy, and a further 10% went into a new trust fund for Luke and Tom, which paid Luke a direct income of £10K per annum. Tom had elected not to draw a share of the income for the moment, he had a perfectly adequate income of his own. The rest of the income was invested in bonds and shares for the acquisition of more land and property when the opportunity arose. Tim had advised him that a financial crisis was approaching, and it would be better to realize some of this money and give it away, rather than let it disappear in a slump.
Jon decided that his two pet trusts, the Afforestation Trust and the Drystone Walling Trust should have £2M each, and that Buckingham College, Saint Boniface's College and the Edmund Heptinstall Educational Trust should all have £10M each. The Camford Men's Fitness Centre would get the last few thousand of its debt for the new extension paid off. The Collegiate Church of Saint Andrew, Tokeham was to receive £1M. He got Tim to make sure that he was not identified as the donor (the funds belonged to a Trust of which he and Tim were the sole trustees).
Jon cared little for politics, but Tim had advised him that the higher education system was going to undergo even greater "dumbing down" in the future years and that all the best institutions would undergo pressures to lower their standards. To protect the elite institutions would require a massive input of private donations to ensure their freedom from financial dependence on the state, and so he picked out the two Camford institutions that had served his family best, Boni's, his employer, and Buckingham, where Luke and Tom had been taught. The Trust would signal to both colleges that a proportion of the gift should be spent on their respective fund-raising activities, and that 20% should be put into their endowments, not spent immediately. The rest could be employed for any purposes for building improvement and academic development that the Governing Body chose.
The donation to the Heptinstall Trust was to ensure that the best and most brilliant students, irrespective of family background, should continue to receive a totally free education, by making scholarships available not just to those beginning their studies, but to those who gave the most spectacular results in their first year exams. Fifty percent of the awards should be set aside for the latter category, who would be nominated by their college or university department. No formal means test of parental income would be applied, the Trust would expect the nominating college or department to be aware of the candidates' financial circumstances. The number of such students was obviously going to be limited by the cash available, and this should act as a motivating factor to stimulate hard academic work rather than laziness. Already, after a mere three years, Heptinstall Scholarships, thanks to the hard work of Tom's former teacher, Bernard Silverdale, had become glittering academic prizes that Jon and Tim hoped would reinvigorate British higher education at an individual level. The Trust had established an active fundraising programme, and already the number of scholarships available each year had doubled. A lot of wealthy people were happy to think that they were actively helping impoverished young men and women to do well academically.
The donation to St Andrew's, Tokeham was to remove the eighteenth century plaster, make necessary external repairs, renovate and clean the interior and reorder the furnishings to suit choir concerts, including the installation of toilet facilities, all of course subject to the necessary legal faculties.
All this had to be kept secret, because Jon did not want to become a figure mentioned in the media, of which he had a venomous loathing and distrust. So not even the heads of the two beneficiary colleges knew the identity of the man behind the Trust's donation. Jon had previously made regular donations to his college since he became of age, and this fact was of course known to the President of Boni's, and was the reason for Jon's Honorary Fellowship. The fact that he had been a much appreciated tutor to Boni's first year chemistry students, did not seem to figure much in the equation.
Chapter Nine: Ben comes to dinner
One day when Tom was out jogging with Ben Curtiss, the American postdoc, their conversation got on to the topic of sexuality. Ben commented on how Italian men seemed to have little conception of fidelity. Tom said that he had had little experience of them, but was inclined to agree. He said that from his admittedly limited experience, research seemed to go better when one's work was free of distractions like new love affairs. He said that he was only in Italy because of his love for his partner, but as they both had a lifetime commitment, they both could just get quietly on with their jobs, as they knew that there was always someone to go home to. Tom said that this was much more conducive to hard work. "That's Dr Sescantanto's problem," said Ben. "He's been a pain in the ass for the last year since his last relationship broke up. He's gay, you know, and he has found to his dismay that young men are only interested in him for what they can get. No-one wants a relationship with an older man unless there's money to be got. He's fishing in the wrong pool. He should be looking out for a man of his own age."
"I didn't know that he was gay," said Tom.
"Haven't you noticed him eyeing you up?"
"No," Tom replied, "I've got a very poor sense of gaydar. But that might explain why I find him difficult to talk to. Certainly on our present basis, there is little chance of him trying to chat me up! What's he really like as a person?"
"He's very nice. Quite thoughtful of other people, rather laid back about his gayness, gives excellent parties twice a year for everyone in the lab, supportive of his co-workers and in every way a good man to work for!"
"In that case, I wish he was a bit more forthcoming with me. Our conversations are always very stiff and awkward."
"Maybe he envies the fact that you are happy in a fixed relationship. When are we going to be allowed to meet your partner?"
"Why don't you come to dinner with us one night when Luke is not working? Either I will cook for us, or we'll get our cleaner to come in and cook. How about next Wednesday?"
"I'd love to. What time?"
"Say 7 pm for about 8. That will give us, or you and Luke, if I'm cooking, the chance to get a few drinks in first. Moreover, it'll give me a chance to have an evening speaking English. You may think it silly, but for the last four months, Luke and I have been speaking only Italian at home. It's the only way to get my Italian up to standard."
"Your Italian is already better than mine."
"Yes, but I have the advantage of being able to practise my Italian in bed!" For Tom, that was a risqué remark. He rarely used suggestive or offensive language in English or Italian, whereas Luke had a rich vocabulary of choice Italian obscenities. He had taught many of these to Tom, but it was not in Tom's more delicate nature to use them.
On the evening of Ben's visit, Tom decided that he would do the cooking, and produced an Anglo-Italian meal. It began with a small helping of home-cooked lasagne, with as main course a fish pie with peas and green beans, and ended with panna cotta with chocolate sauce. They got through two bottles of Frascati with the meal. The evening gave Tom and Luke the chance to find out a bit more about Ben.
When he was introduced to Luke, Luke asked him where he came from. Ben said that he was a New Englander, and had done his Bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard. He also had come to Italy, it seemed, because of a love affair. He had fallen in love with a female postdoc called Giovanna, who at the end of her contract at Harvard had returned to a permanent academic job in Trabizona, in the department of Linguistics. Ben had been very keen to marry her, but she said that she wanted to establish a career first. So then he asked if she would move in with him, and she said that she would consider the matter. That had been several weeks ago, and she had still not made up her mind. To Tom and Luke the conclusion was obvious. She was not in love with Ben. Unfortunately, Ben was so smitten with her that he could not end the affair and look for someone else. Both boys told Ben that he had two alternatives: to forget her and get on with his work, or to look for someone else. "You could always try men!" said Luke. "Italy is full of nice boys, many of whom are gay. Men are much more able to make up their minds than women are! Lots of men are bi. You might be one. Try looking at attractive men and see what effect they have on you between your legs!" Ben looked embarrassed, even though he didn't blush.
"Don't mind him, Ben," said Tom, "he was brought up by a gay couple, so he has no delicacy on sexual matters. He often makes me blush! There are also a lot of nice Italian girls, and they can't all be spoken for."
"I have never considered a gay lifestyle," said Ben.
"What! You must be twenty-eight at least, and never wondered what it would be like to fuck a man or be fucked by one? Or even what it would be like just to kiss one? Even if you've never done it, you must surely have thought about it?" said Luke. "Even if you are religious, a God who loves us can only bless loving relationships, even between humans of the same sex."
"Are you trying to lead me astray?" asked Ben with a grin.
"Not unless you want to be!" said Tom. "Unless you have religious reservations, or the idea of sex with a man fills you with total revulsion, you ought to consider a same-sex partnership. Being gay is not all about blow-jobs in toilets or dark alleys! We are both Christian believers and our partnership has been blessed in private by an ordained priest. We are proud to offer our relationship to God."
"I didn't think that Europeans were religious any more!" said Ben. "Hence the spread of public gayness and gay weddings and so on."
"Do you have any religious faith? Most Americans still do. In that respect, the US is a much better and more godly nation than most of the European Union."
"I was brought up to believe that homosexuality is sinful."
"But do you still believe that? Did you when you were younger, or even maybe still, feel attracted to men and boys?" said Luke. "Don't feel that you have to answer that question, just think about it! I'm not suggesting that you try to bed the first man that takes your fancy. But do look at men and other women, and think seriously about dumping Giovanna. If she says she can't make up her mind, it's not worth the trouble of pursuing her! It's usually men who are reluctant to commit themselves to a relationship, so if a woman feels like that, it's a warning sign that you shouldn't ignore."
"I came here to relax with a couple of guys, and drink a few beers or glasses of wine, and I end up getting advice about my love-life!"
"That's what friends are for!" said Tom. "Any kind of decision about life and relationships merits discussion. The best way to make a bad decision is to consult no-one."
"True, but it's a widespread practice of governments to consult widely about legislative action, and still make the wrong decision!"
The evening ended with both Tom and Ben feeling that they had got to know one another better. As both were basically loners who did not make friends easily, this was obviously a good development.
Chapter Ten: Sandro's first term begins
Soon after Sandro had arrived in Camford, Jon asked him if he should pull some strings in Boni's to get Sandro a single room. He told him that he might get one in any case, but as a freshman, it was equally likely that he would get a duplex room, with separate bedrooms, but a shared sitting room. Equally it was by no means certain that he would get a room with en-suite bathroom facilities. While the college was increasing the number of such rooms, there were still quite a lot with shared facilities on the staircase. Sandro said, no, he was quite content to get whatever he was allocated, shared or single.
The day before the start of term, Jon drove him to the college, parked the car in Fellows' car park, and introduced Sandro to the head porter as his nephew. After Sandro had received his room allocation, Jon helped him carry his bags and possessions to his new room. He said to Sandro, "Well you're on your own now, Sandro. If you need any help, please text or E-mail me. Only phone me in the evenings or if it's urgent. You can come round to the flat at any time, but I will probably not see you very often in college during term time. I usually dine in college on Sunday evenings with your Uncle David, but as a freshman, you will be eating at the informal early dining session, so we won't see one another then."
Sandro's college room turned out to be a single room, with a washbasin in the bedroom, but the remaining bathroom facilities were on the staircase, shared with four other single rooms. It was comfortably furnished with among other things, two armchairs, but no sofa. Sandro soon got to know the four men with whom he shared the bathroom. All were freshmen. Two were sport-obsessed, rowing and playing rugby respectively and prone to leaving grubby sports shorts, socks and jock-straps in the bathroom, to the annoyance of the bedders who took turns to clean it. The other two, one reading physics, the other modern languages, were friendly and interesting.
Once his lectures had begun, Sandro found himself quite busy. He had six lectures per week, a shared tutorial with the college's applied mathematics and engineering tutor and three afternoons of practical work involving engineering drawing, workshop technology and materials testing. Written work for his tutorials involved essays and numerical examples, and the short Camford terms meant that to get through his workload, he had to work in his room about three evenings per week. He found the work enjoyable and stimulating, and despite a lack of family background in the field, he was glad of his choice of subject. There were two other first-year students in Boni's reading engineering, and as the three of them shared the tutorial sessions, he soon made friends with them, as with some of the men on his staircase, and usually was not lacking in someone to talk to during the informal first-year dining sessions. The three engineering students would go out drinking together, exploring the Camford pubs, every Friday evening.