TREVOR

I arrived early for my Friday visit to Trevor. He would be waiting for me, seated in his chair in front of the television and facing out to the open French windows to the loggia and the garden beyond, either flipping through CEEFAX to check the latest share prices or having an after lunch nap.

At my appearance, promptly at 2 o’clock, clapping hands in the Brazilian manner to announce myself through the loggia, he would bawl out a welcome and extend his large hand. From then on he hardly stopped talking for the next two hours.

It is a quirk of mine to try and always be punctual to the nearest minute; not that anyone notices these things in a more informal generation nor seemed to show any reaction when I would say that British punctuality had once been the source of international wonder.

So today, with five minutes short of 2 o’clock, I sat down on a low wall bordering the front garden of the large house. Within minutes a car drew up alongside; surprised, I heard my name boomed out in Trevor’s familiar voice. With him were two other people; a man and a woman in their late forties. Trevor emerged slowly from the car aided by two bamboo sticks with curved handles I had not seen before. He usually moved about the house supported by one solid ash stick. There was a manoeuvre of sticks and an extended hand.

‘Bill, how are you? This is my daughter Sarah and her husband John. They are over from France.’
After the introductions Sarah took control of the group in an easy yet decisive way.
‘Of course I’ve heard about you Bill, and how Daddy looks forward to your visits. Shall we go inside? You lead the way Daddy.’

We got as far as the entrance to the house somehow shepherded by Sarah who was gleaning or imparting information as we progressed up the drive.
‘We have just come from Newlands Park. You know about that? I did. Trevor owned property there.
‘Daddy’s agent gave us the key but it wasn’t the right one so we had to call a locksmith to change the locks. have you met his agent?’ I hadn’t.

As we moved into the house something occurred to me. ‘Trevor, with Sarah and John just over from France for a visit perhaps I could come round at another time?’

There was a unified objection to this proposal. Above Sarah’s and John’s dismissal of the idea, Trevor’s voice gained supremacy. ‘No, no Bill, you must stay. You are central to this.’ Central to a family meeting? Was my first reaction.

For some years I had been visiting Trevor after his wife died. This was through a volunteer organisation and, at first it was he needed the company. He had surrounded himself with a group of gardeners, cleaners, odd-job men and an agent to look after his property.

Trevor was rich. How rich only I knew now because when he lost control of his finances he asked me if I minded helping with his correspondence. ‘You can be my secretary’ he announced in his booming, theatrical voice one sunny afternoon as we sat upstairs at his desk overlooking the garden. When I agreed to help him he explained the situation. Well, sort of. Because Trevor never gave anyone the whole picture. He was naive but canny, dependent yet inordinately suspicious – a suspicion he was good at concealing. He was a man of many abilities and in exercising these he became a caricature of what he was representing.

He had been a decorated soldier in the last war; an officer with some authority who discussed philosophy with some captive German officer in his charge and then threatened to shoot him for some minor infringement, but dear to Trevor’s heart. One hardly needed telling that he loved amateur theatricals and enjoyed participating in many local groups. He had been President of the local rugby club until his eccentricities, following his wife’s death, had resulted in him being side-lined and given a life-time achievement function. This he had used in a way that was the despair of the committee members.

He just could not resist interfering; benevolently, as he was not the pushy sort; just blind to his own limitations. Like some great, recumbent elephant rolling over and crushing all he rolled on.
What he had been like when his wife was alive was  not difficult to see as, through all his talking, it emerged that she was the centre of his world and her whims had been his commands. She must have been his interpreter for the world about him although it seemed she handled such power adroitly and with grace and kindness. Someone had to handle such a person; over-powering, unstoppable yet likable in an exasperating way.

We set to work on straightening out his affairs – his correspondence and his finances. Not that he ever used the word ‘finances.’ He was a millionaire several times over and chose his words scrupulously. ‘I was helping him sort out his filing’, on some days. ‘His secretary,’ on others and, as we progressed I became his ‘administrator.’ He hinted at extended hours and introducing an emolument. I could see that changing the relationship of my being a volunteer visitor would be dangerous. He liked to pay for the services he received so he knew where he stood, dealing with people as a chess player handles pieces on a chess board and I meant to hold on to the status quo.

He had three daughters, none of whom visited him regularly. I had never met any of them until Sarah’s arrival from France. He gave them all allowances and there was always some pressure for him to bestow either gifts or allowances on grandchildren or other of their relatives. There were the many invitations from organisations or clubs he belonged to. Fund-raising, raffles, weddings to where he was expected to contribute. He tried to sound me out about the payments to his family but I kept out of that area, although we did draw up a scale for the other out-goings.

Over time I managed to catch up on the neglected filing system, transferring the piles of correspondence from the boxes he had started using to the filing cabinets. The incoming post was sorted, dealt with and filed and his stocks and shares portfolio brought up-to-date with the dividends deposited.

All his wealth had been inherited but it was clear that until recently he had handled it prudently and resourcefully. His investments had been shrewd and had grown to a point that had concerned his bank because he kept a minimum of a million ponds in his account and would accept no financial advice.
But now, not only had he lost control of his finances, his property was in the same state and his Irish agent was mentioned frequently and with growing concern. The man who I never met seemed to have spun a web around Trevor and his declining faculties but I was kept out of the details.

This was the position when those words, ‘you are central….’ were spoken and evidently endorsed by his elder daughter. With the small group now inside the house, both Sarah and John were able to give me more information at voice level beyond Trevor’s hearing range which was extremely low without his two hearing aids. They were convinced that the agent, McGuigan was bleeding Trevor dry. Work on the property at Newlands Park had been going on for two and a half years. Some work that had been paid for wasn’t done. In spite of his denial he, or the Polish workers he employed, were sleeping in the property. The place smelled and when the agent turned up he smelled of alcohol.

Trevor wanted us all in the loggia and as we headed there Sarah concluded by saying that she was pleased about my visits to her father as everywhere else she saw him surrounded by charlatans
As we made ourselves comfortable in the loggia chairs under coaxing from Trevor, Sarah went out to make cups of tea.. Trevor launched into a wartime story I had heard before. There were some amusing sotto voce comments from John.

‘Now I understand why the Germans surrendered; anything better than another Trevor story.’
‘Do you always have to listen to this?’ he asked.
‘Oh, I just follow the conversation wherever it goes.’
‘he’s confused,’ said John, ‘always has been.’
At this point Sarah came in with the tea and, in some oblique manner prompted Trevor who started a rambling recitation about the Newlands Park property. Trevor was a talker but I had always found him to be a coherent one, but now he seemed like a puppet under control, not sure what he was saying was what had been agreed he should say. This seemed to have all been stage managed by Sarah and so, as Trevor floundered, John broke in decisively.
‘What you are saying is that McGuigan is charging you more than £700 a week and there seems to be no progress – now, if Bill would agree to take charge at an agreed rate……..’ he broke off and turned to me. As it now seemed my turn to speak, I shook my head slowly.

‘The two things wouldn’t combine. I’m here as a volunteer and taking this thing on for any fee would breach the principle of the organisation I’m here for.’
There was a temporary disarray and then the phone rang in the house. Sarah went to answer it. Relieved, Trevor started another story, but John had had enough. ‘Haven’t you and Bill work to do?’ he bellowed. ‘Oh, have we? Yes, I suppose we have.’
He and I got up and as we passed through the inner room Sarah looked up, ‘It’s Wendy, Daddy.’

We went upstairs to the study and were soon immersed in getting the accounts and filing sorted, sitting side by side near an open window with the garden below. It was pleasant. Trevor seemed more relaxed and story followed story. The time passed quickly and on my way out at 4 o’clock I went to say goodbye to Sarah and John. Sarah had already decided on another course of action. Mr McGuigan was to be summons on Monday and sacked; a replacement would be arranged through a major property company. We moved towards the door. I asked John if they were here on holiday.
‘Not really,’ he said, we’re here for Trevor’s second daughter’s wedding – tomorrow at Wandsworth,’ – a pause, then gleefully – ‘and he doesn’t know about it yet.’ He had a comedian’s sense of timing and I stifled a snort of surprise as Trevor, with his usual courtesy, bade me goodbye.

14 SEPTEMBER 2006