Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 23

It was weird.

My Dad and Gerald were getting on famously as was my Mum and Julia although they spent most of their time either up at the house or on Casio whereas Dad and Gerald spent a lot of time with us on Spook.

It was on one such occasion shortly before it was time for them to return to Tripoli that we were sitting out on the well deck enjoying the late evening warmth that Gerald pointed to a scape on the paint.

"When are you going to get her repainted Alex?"

"Oh we keep talking about it, we've even decided on her livery but with so much else going down…… it sort of got put on the back burner."

"You really should get it done before the autumn though.

Not being rude but can you afford it?"

"I don't have that much cash but Dad tells me we should take a dividend from the company. I want a top class job and that will set us back somewhere in the region of two grand."

"I thought it might be more than that actually. Is there anything else that needs doing?"

"It'd be nice to replace the fore and aft fenders but otherwise no, there isn't."

"Are they expensive?"

"No not really. Fifteen pounds apiece for good ones."

"Very well then. I pay for it or rather it comes out of a trust fund we have set up for both of you.

Your dear mother wouldn't allow me to pay what I wanted towards Justin's education and keep so we compromised. She was prepared to accept a small amount to keep Justin in clothes and cover the cost of any other excess, the remainder I had invested in your names, both of you, with Tim and your Grandfather acting as trustees.

I think now is the right time to put some of it to good use. No complaints, no arguments please. This has been agreed by all of us so you organise it and Tim, the keeper of the cheque book will pay whatever is necessary. The only thing is to find somewhere for you to stay while the work's being carried out."

I looked at Sir George who just grinned and raised his glass.

"Of course Alex. I wouldn't have it any other way my boy! My house is your house and welcome!"

Jus was speechless. Dad just smiled his goofy smile and I started to cry.

Gerald helped the moment.

"I think we should put to rest this bottle of gin and celebrate! Not for you boys as there's only two thirds of the damn thing left so you stick to wine!

Spook was repainted.

We had gone for a very dark blue superstructure and roof with cream coach lines making sure the lettering and hieroglyphics on the bow were left protected.

The cost was slightly less than I'd thought but when I questioned this I was told that a single colour worked out less than a multiple colour scheme so that left enough for us to buy new chimneys and exhaust stack.

Taken back to bare metal, two primer coats, three undercoats, one of mixed undercoat and top lacquer and four top coats rounded off by two coats of protective clear lacquer and the job was done.

Fuck did she look good!

We didn't take her out until the following spring so the paint could harden off but in truth we were too busy studying or spending time up at the mill to do much else.

That winter we lost Spatz and Dizzy. They were old for Springer's but that didn't stop me from bawling my eyes out.

Sir George and Jus kept me focused that was until we lost the other two at which point I thought I wanted to die too.

I didn't study for almost two weeks, I hardly ate anything and despite everyone's best efforts, nothing could lift me that is until Jus gave me an ultimatum.

"Pull yourself together or I'm going to live up at the house. Not only that, I'll change the fucking locks so you can't get in.

I know you loved them but Alex, they were bloody dogs for Christ's sake! They die before we do. We can always have more if you like but for Pete's sake…… get a fucking grip!"

That was all I needed. The very thought of Jus cutting and running scared me to death.

That night being a Friday, we ate up at the house. I know I must've looked like shit but no one was unkind enough to say as much, I was just thankful I was back approaching normality.

I ate well enough but refused the offer of wine then once I decided I could make my excuses, I walked down to the jetty then sat and watched as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

I tried think positively.

I had Jus or rather I hoped I still did, studying was going even better than predicted and business was booming so what exactly was my problem?

The dogs?

Well perhaps that was a contributing factor but I felt as if there was something else bringing me down. For a kid who normally had a gentle disposition, I had this overwhelming desire to break something, to lash out, maybe even hurt myself in order to take away the pain I felt inside.


I woke the following morning to an empty bed. I started to panic thinking Jus had carried out his threat to stay up at the house but then I saw a mug of tea beside the bed, still tepid so he had obviously got back after I'd fallen asleep.

I glanced at my watch. Half past eight. Shit!

I drank the tea and got myself dressed. The stove had gone out but that could wait as I needed to get up to the mill and make a grovelling apology to Jus for being such an arsehole.

I found him in the general office.

"You look a touch better this morning?"

"I feel a touch better. Can we go somewhere for a chat please?"

We walked out into the gardens and once we were out of earshot I began.

"I'm so very sorry. I don't have any reason to feel the way I do and I feel really bad about upsetting you but I do need to understand something. Something more important than anything else.

Are you going to leave me Jus?"

"What? No of course I'm not! Whatever put that idea in your head?"

"But you said you were going to live back up at the house, change the locks to keep me out. You have no idea what that did to me. I wanted to die and I really mean that. No Justin Andrew Armstrong in my life equals no life worth a damn."

Jus drew me into a cuddle.

"I said that in an attempt to get you to open up to me 'cos I thought you were holding something back. I had no intention of doing any such thing and do you know the reason why?

I love you. That's the reason.

Seeing you hurting was hurting me and I was frightened there was something massive going down, something you either didn't want or couldn't share with me. You were scared of losing me? Damn it Alex? I was shitting myself because I thought that I was losing you!"

"Oh God! I've been so selfish. Wallowing in my own self-pity without even thinking about how you felt. Can you…… will you forgive me?"

"There's nothing for me to forgive but can you tell me what exactly was gnawing at you? The dogs dying or was there something else?"

"I think that the dogs were the straw that broke the camel's back. Pressure of studying, the business and before you go saying anything, I know it's in good hands and everything is fine but then the loss of your Gran…… it all sort of crept up on me. I've never been under pressure before. My life just seemed to drift along happily so this is all very new and I find it difficult to cope sometimes. I guess I'm too soft for all this!"

"Soft? Never! Caring and sensitive I'll buy.

Come on, let's get ourselves some coffee up at our café. It's been ages since we graced the place with our custom."

We sat around with our coffee and cakes just talking things over. It was good to see that despite it being late November and way too cold to sit outside, we still managed to attract visitors.

We had found a cracking young chef who was so enthusiastic about her skills, had trained a couple of others, one girl and one lad making it possible to stay open from eight in the morning with last food orders at nine in the evening. The bar shut at ten-thirty at night unless we had sufficient numbers to warrant later opening but that was not decided by us but rather our catering manager, a guy fresh out of college having been awarded a first in hotel and business management. We knew we might not hang on to him for that long, he probably saw this as a good jumping off point but we hoped he didn't disappear too soon.

The crèche was up, running and busy!

Our staff appreciated it and in return, we appreciated their loyalty but then we also had fee-paying customers from Caversham which made it viable.

Our little shop plus the two units we'd subbed out were also doing well making the entire complex something like a living entity, a far cry from the dilapidated and abandoned place it was when we first went skinny-dipping in the millrace.

God did that seem like a lifetime ago!

"I'm not much in the mood for work today Jus."

"What do you feel like doing then?"

"Kicking my heels around here definitely doesn't appeal and killing time loafing about on the boat is not what I need right now so I thought about going shopping."

"You want to go shopping?"

"Well no, not really but I wouldn't mind just having a mooch around Reading, you know, like window shopping and anyway I'll be needing something a touch smarter than tee shirts and jeans."

"Why? You major on the casual-verging-on-scruffy so what's with this need to go up-market? The only time I've ever seen you wearing a collar and tie was at Gran's funeral and then you had to borrow something of mine?"

"Ah well you see, remember last Thursday when all the business post was delivered to the house by mistake?"

"Yes I do. What of it?"

"I didn't take all of it up to the mill. I hung on to one letter."

"Why did you do that? Was it bad news?"

"No not bad news, actually I'm not sure how I categorise it. Scary maybe?"

"Alex? You can be really annoying when you put your mind to it! What was this scary letter all about?!"

"Okay. You read it and you'll see what I mean. Here you go."

Jus opened the envelope and read its contents before whistling through his teeth.

"Bloody hell Alex. Have you said anything about this to Tim or Grandfather?"

"Not a word. I was going to show you but I wasn't sure what to read into it myself. It just made my mood even worse so I sat on it until I was in a better frame of mind.

I'm sorry but I needed to understand the implications before going public."

"Actually I can get that but I think we should go down to the house and tell Tim and Granddad and then, depending on what they think, perhaps we should call a staff meeting and tell everyone else."

"Then go shopping?"

"Then go shopping!"

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