Loneliness - Moving On
by Andrew Foote
For those of you who are not familiar with the original 'Loneliness' book I would suggest you read that first before attempting to get your head around this the follow-on but for those of you who don't have the time nor the inclination, I will attempt to précis in the hope you will visit it.
Alexis and Justin, the two main characters, met under difficult circumstances both coming from diametrically different backgrounds, Justin being a fourteen year-old boy from a privileged background, privately educated at one of England's top public schools whereas Alexis was the thirteen year-old offspring of an unmarried hippy couple who lived on a narrow boat on the River Thames where it passed through the town of Reading in Berkshire and being of no fixed abode, was home schooled by his parents, Tim and Kaz, both well educated in their own right.
An unlikely friendship between the two boys lead to them falling deeply in love with each other and 'Loneliness' details the progression of their love one for the other, the difficulties, both practical and emotional are explored in some detail, some of which are very upsetting.
Fortunately they have the support of various family members who recognise their commitment to each other and despite Justin almost losing his life, they manage to battle through prejudice to the point where they find themselves with a life, one that should enable them to move forward.
We join them at the point where both boys have sat their GCE examinations at 'O' level. Justin one year ahead of himself, Alexis two years ahead and also due to their smart thinking and assistance from others have formed a small production business which has the promise to go far.
It is fast approaching Christmas, the year is 1973.
I think I was awake first. It felt cold and perhaps my yanking the duvet back over to my side of the bed woke Jus!
"Shit Alex? What are you doing? I was nice and warm!"
"I'm not surprised! You had all of the damn duvet covering you, you prick!"
We cuddled up but before anything else could kick off, the alarm sounded. Time to get up and face a new day. Breakfast then a day at the Mill producing our brain-children, 'Armstrong's Strong-Arm' and the 'Dog Balls', ideas that had started off as a bit of an experiment whilst walking Jus's Grandfather's Springer Spaniels to a business where we produced, packed and marketed somewhere in the region of £5000 worth of items every week and in 1973, that was serious money.
Aside from Jus and I, my Dad and Sir George Appleby, Jus's Granddad, all of us non-executive meaning we none of us drew a salary, we employed four people. Joe, a lad who we came to know as a mate but was also very practical and hard-working was our production / works manager, Kirstin, a girl of dubious sexuality but very confident and a driver of people was Joe's right hand umm……..person, Matthew did all the packaging, a nice trustworthy lad but not the brightest guy around and then there was Gillian our office girl, the sister of one of our closest friends Katie, girlfriend of Alison or 'Ali'.
We were slightly later arriving than the others, bosses prerogative I think it's known as but production was in full swing with Joe on the injection moulder and Kirstin helping Matt clear the back log of packaging. We went to each of them to find out how everything was going.
Joe was pretty upbeat but voiced his concerns over our stock of P2R3, the raw material used to make the Strong-Arm.
"We better hope for a delivery on Monday guys or else we'll really be in the shit. I estimate we'll have enough for today, tomorrow and most of Monday then we'll be deep in doggie-do."
Jus laughed at the metaphor.
"We will have to think how we could use that as a product name! What do doggies do that we could hang that name on do you think?"
"Alexis says that you're the ideas man. Down to you I reckon!"
Next we went to see how Matt and Kirstin were doing.
"Everything okay you guys? Any concerns or problems?"
"Just the one Alexis. How you expect Matt to keep up with Joe and I beats the hell out of me! He needs someone helping him and it'll only become more of a problem if the balls take off. To my reckoning it's possible to label four balls to every one Strong-Arm so by the end of a Sunday production run he'll be left with a surplus of balls waiting to be labelled."
"Okay. For the time being either Justin or I will help him out. If we could guarantee that demand would stay at this level or better then there'd be a case for taking on another body so just do your best Matt and if anyone finds they're at a loose end then they will help you."
"Thanks Alexis. If I try to rush packing the Strong-Arms then I mess up and have to unpick the staples which puts me behind even more."
"Just work at your own pace mate. Better to get it right first time around."
Jus and I ended up in the office, Gillian was already taking calls but pointed to the boiling kettle and two mugs waiting to be filled with coffee.
Once off the telephone Gillian pointed to a small stack of paper.
"More orders. Came in via telex first thing this morning. A quick calculation, I think about another 2000 items. Oh and that telephone call was from 'Pollard's Pets'. They don't want any more purple ones. They say it attracts the wrong sort of customer! That bloke Henry Pollard is seriously homophobic!"
Jus shook his head.
"He ordered them. It isn't like we forced them on him. Just make a note on his file not to send purple. Gay people's money is as good as anybody else's. What a prick!
We better hope he doesn't come snooping round this neck of the woods what with Alex and I, Kirstin, Kate and Ali if they're here! He'd have apoplexy!"
I finished my coffee, stood up and yawned.
"I'm not sure I like this Saturday working, I'm tired already and it isn't half past eight yet! I'm going to give Matt and Kirstin a hand. What are your plans Jus?"
"As soon as your Dad gets here I'll take over from Joe so he can help with fencing off the Millrace. Now the wheel's turning twenty four hours a day the factory inspector wants it guarded which is a shame 'cos it looks nice now it's restored and working."
"Just have a picket-type fence. Enough to prevent access but open enough so people can see it."
"You'll have to talk with your Dad. He was the one who had the conversation with your man."
At ten-thirty everyone took a fifteen minute tea break so Jus and I took a walk outside to see how my Dad and Joe were getting on with the fencing. It looked good. A four foot high picket fence which would be painted white to match the wooden shuttering of the Mill house. This would enable the water wheel to be in full view but secure enough to prevent little kids from accessing the millrace.
I should have felt happy but it felt as if a dark cloud was hanging over me. Jus, perceptive as ever took hold of my hand and gave it a little squeeze.
"Wassup Alex? You've been miserable all morning."
"Oh I don't know. Everything tells me I should be happy. The business is going well, exams are over for now but we never seem to get any quality time together. We're either busy studying, working up here or planning new products so even when we do get time to ourselves, we're knackered. I feel I need a break away from everything."
"A break away from me as well?"
"God no! That's my point! I want us to just take off somewhere. Take the boat out for a week, disappear for a while, recharge our batteries and make love all day. That's definitely what I need, just thinking about it makes me feel better."
"It does sound idyllic but your Dad would never sanction it, you know, taking the boat out on the river at this time of year. Are you regretting our challenge, doing our 'A's by next summer?"
"I don't know. Maybe just a little."
"Remember what you told me when we first met? You studied in the morning then had the afternoons to yourself unless you chose to work through."
"Yeah I remember. What of it?"
"You said that if the weather was crap you'd elect to work into the afternoon then when the weather was really nice, you'd take the whole day off. My point is this. It's winter, hardly boating weather so why not use the days studying or working up here then come June and we've sat our exams, hopefully the business will be on a firmer footing so then will be the time to take off and not just for a week either. We could go away for the entire summer."
"How is it you always manage to say the right things? You pick me up when I'm feeling low, always managing to make me smile! When was the last time I told you how much I adore you?"
"Ages ago! I adore you too! Come on. Let's go and do some work but this time with a smile on your lovely face!"
"You look better now. I thought I'd done something wrong earlier."
"I'm sorry Matt. You're fine, honestly. I just felt low I suppose but Jus always manages to get me back up and running. I think the pressure of the exams together with concerns over the business just got to me for a moment."
"What's up with the business Alexis?"
"Nothing really massive. Worries over the shortage of P2R3, Kirstin's point about possible staff shortages, they all kind of niggle away at me. Will you promise me one thing Matt?"
"If you have any worries, regarding your work here or anything else for that matter, please feel free to talk to either Jus or myself, my Dad even. Don't bottle it up, talk it through. That's what I've just done outside and I feel loads better for it."
"I can promise you that and likewise if you want to talk to me."
I punched him playfully on the arm.
"Good man! Let's make some inroads into this lot shall we?"
The remainder of the day shot past and at ten past four we turned off the lights and locked up for the day. We all of us took a look at the fencing, Kirstin pretty much echoed my thoughts.
"Look good once it's painted don't you think? Even better if you keep the grass cut short, maybe even create some flower borders."
My Dad groaned.
"Oh Kirstin! Like I haven't got enough to do? Now you want me to turn the place into Kew Gardens already?"
"Actually Dad, she's right! It would look really good! Mum likes gardening so perhaps a little project for her."
"Okay, you ask her cos I'm not going to!"
"Right then. I will! What's the worst that could happen? Hit me maybe? I can run faster than she can."
"That's a lot of hard work for one person Alexis. That's a big area of ground depending on what you end up planning to do."
Kirstin looked at Gillian and they both nodded to each other before Gillian spoke up.
"Kirstin and I would be happy to pitch in and help under Kaz's guidance. Three of us would make light work of it."
"Well okay. I'll put it to her. You're right, it would look nice with the added bonus that it would keep the natives happy but if I turn up tomorrow with a black eye, it'll be all your fault and Alexis can finish the damn fence!"
Actually my Mum was all for the idea and when we told her that Kirstin and Gillian would be more than happy to help, sealed the deal.
"Just one proviso you boys. I get to lay the thing out and select what is planted. I'll be guessing correctly if I assume I'll be the one who keeps on top of the weeding and general maintenance of it so it's only fair don't you think?"
"But the girls would be happy to help Kaz. You don't have to do it all."
"I realise that Justin but there's one thing creating something and yes, help from anyone would be good but during the summer, mowing the grass, tending the borders still has to be done and it isn't right to expect your production staff to do it. In any case, I'd hope they'd be too busy in the factory. No. It will be my responsibility and I think your Grandmother might enjoy helping as well. How does that sit?"
"It's cool. Plenty of colour though!"
"And I always thought you were a nice boy Justin! You're spending too much time around Alexis! You're developing attitude! Yes there will be plenty of colour!"
Jus laughed at this.
"I've always had attitude, it's just it comes out when I'm passionate about something. Alex is something of a worrier and I'm the opposite. I want to drive forward all the time where he needs to take his time, consider options but sometimes doing that, you miss the moment, spend too much time analysing things."
"Yes, in that respect he's very much my son but you? You're like Tim. Barking mad optimists!"
My Dad looked up from his newspaper.
"WOOF, WOOF! Gotta go with it sometimes mate!"
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