Boy on the Towpath
by Andrew Foote
Tom was led off by a senior boy for a tour of the school. I wished that I'd been allowed to tag along but instead I was handed a stack of literature about the place with the suggestion that I took them to the library so I could go through them.
Once seated, I started studying them. Details about the school uniform which seemed to change every term. A light grey wool suit, white shirt and black shoes together with the school tie for the winter, a light grey blazer, black trousers and shoes for the spring term, a blazer in the school colours, light grey trousers, short sleeved white shirts opened at the neck and black shoes for the summer term then back to the spring term attire for the autumn. Various different sports gear but only the basics for the first term until it had been decided which of the sports each pupil majored in. Smocks and aprons for science and art periods, all safety equipment such as glasses, masks etc., would be supplied by the school. My bank balance would be taking a massive hit!
Then came the school rules. Loads of them! On further inspection, a good 50% only applied to boarders so I skipped those. Some reminded me of my days at Reading School. "When off the school premises and in uniform, all pupils are expected to walk. Running for whatever reason is strictly forbidden."
"When using public transport and in uniform, pupils are required and expected to vacate their seats for the elderly and disabled."
Nothing much changes at public schools with proud and distinguished histories although there was one difference I noticed. No references to corporal punishment!
Tom arrived back some two hours later wearing a massive smile.
"I can't believe I'll be coming here next term! It's just so fantastic! The sports halls, the swimming bath, the science labs, - well just about everything!"
"Well you are coming here mate so you'd better get used to it! Tell me all about it on the way back."
We walked out in the sunshine and once I was sure there was no one watching, I gave Tom a big cuddle and kissed him gently on the lips.
"I'm so very proud of you, do you know that? I've no idea what you said in the interview but whatever it was must have been pretty special. Shit you even had Professor Gillman with half a smile on her face!"
"I like it when you're proud of me Stu. Can I phone Craig when we get to the car please?"
"Sure you can but remember one thing, don't slip up and call him Craig at school. That might not go down too well!"
Once we were on our way Tom reached for my mobile and punched up Craig's number.
"Hello Craig? It's Tom here. You'll never believe what happened today? I've got a full bursary starting next term so maybe I should call you 'sir' now!" a pause and Tom started giggling.
"Yes. I know……..I understand."
Tom handed me the phone "Craig wants a word with you."
"Hey Stu? That's bloody brilliant news! I'll tell you this much, the school will be good for Tom and what's more Tom will be good for the school."
"I'm pleased you think so Craig. Needless to say we're both over the moon with the outcome and if I'm honest, I still can't quite believe it."
"Big celebration tonight?"
"No not tonight. I've not told Tom this yet but I'd planned for us to take the boat down to Oxford as of tomorrow. It's easily doable in three weeks and then we'll have a week to get the uniforms and such like organised."
Tom gripped my arm, vigorously nodding his head in approval.
"Look I don't want you to think we want to muscle in but how about we go down in convoy? Anna has three weeks off and we were wondering where to go. I've not done the South Oxford. Say if you just want to be together, I mean so much has happened recently you might just want your own space. We'll quite understand."
"I'll put it to the boss although I already know what he'll say!"
"Craig wants to know if he and Anna could come in convoy with us. What do you think?"
"Oh that'd be massive!"
"Take that as a yes Craig! Why don't you guys come over to us for a quick bit of supper and drinks and I'll outline my plan, say around eight?"
"That'd be very nice. See you then."
I set the phone back into its cradle.
"Three whole weeks out with the boat! That's brilliant Stu! Hey and with Mr and Mrs Sir as well!"
"What did he say when you said about calling him Sir?"
"Only just that I should in school but I could call him anything I wanted back at the marina!"
"Fine! We've got some work to do tomorrow before we leave. If I give you some cash, you water up then take the boat down to the service quay and get her pumped out and fill her up with diesel whilst I go and do some shopping. Is that okay?"
"That's really like on my own?"
"It's no big deal for you and you bloody know it! Anyway you've not got a credit card and you can't drive my truck so this division of labour makes sense."
Anna and Craig arrived later on and over a hastily prepared chilli I briefly outlined my route plan. I had estimated nine days each way leaving us with two days to do some sightseeing in Oxford and one day in hand just in case of problems. Each night we would be near a waterside pub or restaurant so if we couldn't be bothered about cooking on board we could get something out. Also it would be safer being near a populated area rather than bankside in the back end of nowhere. I also told them that Tom would sort out 'Movin' Home' whilst I did the shopping.
"On his own? This is a very big boat for a young lad to handle?"
"Listen. He's every bit as good as I am. Not as experienced I grant you but he's very capable none the less. He'll be fine and I dare say far better that most of the folks here."
Anna chipped in at this point. "Well if that's the case, can I ride with you to the shops and if Craig needs a hand then Tom can help him with ours. It's always the two of us when we move the boat you see."
"If that's okay with you Craig?"
"I'm happy with that and anyway, this I have to see! A thirteen year-old single handing a 72 foot narrowboat in a congested marina! You'll have many owners crapping themselves!"
"He will blow you away Craig and those other silly sods who think they know it all. Just leave him to it and he'll be fine."
They left shortly after ten-thirty and Tom and I headed to bed tired but very happy, a happiness we hadn't felt in many weeks. Tom looked up at me as he undressed down to his underpants, pausing as he went to slip them off, questions in his eyes. I smiled at him.
"It's okay. Go ahead."
We cuddled up together. I for one supressed the inevitable hard-on as I spooned into him but had no idea what he felt and I wasn't about to go groping around to find out! Whether or not this was deemed inappropriate or not, at this point I neither cared or worried about it. It was right for us and we were both happy with it. Tom was asleep in minutes, his usual light snoring giving it away but it took me just a little while longer as I basked in the warm glow of 'my boy's' success that day. I also was minded to reflect back on those last few months since our first encounter that day on the towpath. How he'd changed, almost grown up overnight from being just another gobby but loveable kid to a responsible and polite one. I caught my breath when I wondered how Jan would feel about today's events but comforted myself in the belief that just maybe, if David was right, she'd be looking down on us and smiling.
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