Loneliness - Moving On
by Andrew Foote
I found Jus in the office. He sort of half smiled at me before going back to the papers on his desk, almost as if he knew he'd let his guard down.
"Have you got a minute Jus or are you busy?"
"Just killing time until lunch. Why do you ask?"
"Let's take an early one 'cos we need to talk."
"Now let me guess. Taking on this new project?"
"Yes and no but it isn't the main reason so can you?"
He reached for his jacket before turning to me.
"I hope you're not going to go banging on about stuff 'cos I don't want to hear it Alex."
My gut reaction was to slap him down but somehow reason prevailed and keeping my cool, I shook my head.
"I just think we should have a chat, nothing heavy but I need this, wrong…… we need this so please?"
We took a quiet table in the restaurant, placed our order before I began my apologies.
"I'm very sorry Jus. I've been a total arsehole over this, not for my opposition to this new project, I am allowed to have an opinion afterall but it's more the way I voiced it and when I voiced it so from now on, business gets discussed here at the Mill and not on our boat.
I had a long conversation with your Granddad and he made me look at stuff in a completely different light. The way I've been behaving is unforgivable. It has driven a wedge between us and I won't allow it to continue. I love you for fuck's sake and this episode could've wrecked everything so my promise to you is that no matter how we see the future of the Company, we work together, try and pull in the same direction, sort out our differences in a manner more suited to Company Directors rather than two kids squabbling over a toy."
Jus put his head in his hands and laughed.
"And here was me planning on apologising to you! We've both been stupid over this, there's more to life than this and losing you for the sake of crap is something I couldn't even contemplate so can it with the apologies. We're both a pair of twatts!"
We ate our meal, the conversation didn't touch on business until we'd finished eating then over a glass of wine, we returned to the subject.
"Your Granddad showed me that there can be a way to proceed with this saddlery thing without having to move off-site. That was my only concern as this place, the Mill, the restaurant, crèche and everything is Armstrong-Greening and to move out would be unthinkable. I'm not sure what his ideas consist of but if they're workable then fine, let's give it some positive thought and I won't oppose any doable plan."
"I once told you that he could be very persuasive but this has to be his best achievement to date!
Let's draw a veil over the last few weeks, fuck going back to work this afternoon as there's some wine, a warm and cosy boat and an even more cosy bed waiting for us on Spook.
How's that for a plan then?!"
"So there you have it ladies and gentlemen.
We move all garaging and vehicle operations out of the Mill and convert it to a temperature and humidity controlled environment in order that we can store leather.
We build a separate facility in the woods above the river, a log cabin style structure might be nice, where the production of saddles and so forth can take place.
I have spoken to Mr Baylis and he's willing to either sell us a proportion of his yard or rent it to us together with workshop facilities to keep and service our vehicles thus keeping all manufacturing on this site.
We have a way to go but if we manage to get the necessary approval, are we going to give it favourable consideration?"
No ordinary board meeting this as all our senior managers were invited together with representatives of our unofficial shop floor committee so on a show of hands, the idea was given 100% backing.
Moving on yet again but with one major bonus.
Jus and I were also back to how things used to be.
We bought garaging and workshop space from John Baylis (Matt's Dad, now retired) and the only vehicle that stayed up at the Mill was the Foden but as soon as her restoration had been completed then she too would go back to Caversham.
Sir George was in his element and negotiated with the planning authorities getting full planning permission for the new Saddlery and as was the original idea, a very large log cabin won the day and once it was built, looked incredible.
We laid on transport for the staff so ensuring they weren't out of pocket then advertised for apprentices to a mixed reception.
Some of those who applied were no-hopers, some we did take on but to secure the numbers needed, Joe went back to his old trade school and gave a talk to their up-coming school leavers which provided us with the numbers we needed.
We had to pay massive salaries to the craftsmen and women but as we would discover, the cost of the finished product made this more than worth it and so in just over a year since that visit to Highgrove, we were in production with our first commission, a side saddle for Her Majesty the Queen herself!
Aside from day-to-day management, this branch of our Company was self-regulating.
The senior Master Craftswoman held sway when it came down to materials, designs, pace of production and only reported to Gill if there were problems and although Gill had authority over every aspect of our business, we felt it best to keep our noses out of something we didn't fully understand.
My Dad kept a close eye on their finances but after some twelve months of straight trading, no anomalies, so Sir George assumed overall responsibility being better connected to deal with our up-market clients.
Our fleet of vehicles had to increase as we now had buyers, tailors and sales people on the road. Also they had to travel extensively, not only throughout the UK but to America, Canada and especially the Middle East where Polo was the sport of choice for weathy Arabs.
We had to employ more maintenance, kitchen and waiting staff and even a Harbour Master and so by spring the following year, we were employing over one hundred people and if summer looked to be as good as the long term forecasts had promised, we would have to think about swelling the ranks yet again.
It made us chuckle thinking about how Matt had started with us packing Strong-Arms yet now he's managing ten seven-and-a-half ton trucks, one twenty ton, five Company cars, a twenty seater coach, the Bentley, the old Morris and soon the Foden would be back to its original splendour.
He was given a manifest of what was due for delivery each week and it was left up to him to organise routes and timetables.
There was no doubt, the boy was bloody good at his job and his salary reflected our respect for him in no small way.
By the summer of 1973 two things happened that are worth noting.
Both Jus and I had passed our A level exams, straight Firsts as we had always promised ourselves so it was time to think about University placements.
The other thing was, the Foden was ready for the road and just in time to go out to all the country events and shows in order to showcase our products.
A slip in our suggestion box solved the problem of staffing this and the lass responsible won herself a £200 bonus in the process.
"Ask the shop floor if anyone fancied a few days away to man the stand, play sales people for the duration?"
This made so much sense!
They knew the products, they were enthusiastic about what we were at so why the heck not?
We had a road show!!
Rather than bothering my Dad to convert the 40 foot trailer into a display stand, we hired the services of a professional.
He didn't come cheap but then we wanted it to look the part so as to reflect well on our business. The finished article was terrific and well worth the money spent on it.
It was decided that it was better to send the Foden and trailer to the events empty with a 7.5 tonner bringing up the rear with all the products.
We didn't show our new line of equestrian products, they were too expensive and insuring them was a nightmare so we just carried brochures and glossy catalogues.
Jus and I attended the first two shows, one at Warwick, the other one being the Three County's Show at Malvern but after that, happy that our crew were more than able to handle things, we left them to it.
University places caused us problems.
Given our A level results and the fact that both my Dad and Mr Armstrong had been up at Oxford, gained first class honours degrees and not only that, my Dad had done his PhD there, Jus was refused a place.
His attitude was that I should go ahead and accept but his manner told me that he didn't mean it.
The general consensus of opinion was he'd been given the bums-rush due to being expelled from Down House, powerful influences in high places no doubt.
Mr Armstrong was furious and told us later that if it hadn't been because of problems where he was stationed, he'd give the selection committee a hard time but it never happened so I refused to accept my placement opting to look again for somewhere we could be together.
We were accepted at Reading, London and Cardiff.
Dad thought it unwise to go for Reading as we'd be living on top of the business and that might serve to disrupt our studies.
He was probably right.
Neither of us liked London, too busy plus our faculties would be at opposite sides of the city so we went for Cardiff.
We liked Cardiff!
Great facilities, great social life and if we needed to go back to Mapledurham, one and a half hours by train.
People were nice and with only a few raised eyebrows over our relationship, the three years spent there shot past with both of us gaining first class honours, me in Physics and Jus in Modern Languages.
We took a break for twelve months and concentrated on going out with Spook and generally interfering in the running of our Company.
In that regard, things were fine and we were now looking at employing a second generation workforce but with time comes increasing age and Sir George was beginning to look very frail.
He passed away in the spring of the following year aged ninety-four.
We shut up shop for two days as a mark of respect for one of the finest people who had ever graced our lives.
The biggest funeral service ever was held at St. Peter's Church in Caversham with the entire staff in attendance. The coffin was carried by Jus, my Dad, me and Matt, someone Sir George had taken a real liking to coming as he had, a lad from humble beginnings to a man who could hold his own in Royal company.
Mr and Mrs Armstrong took early retirement and took up residence in Sir George's old cottage spending their time with Mr Armstrong standing as, and getting elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Reading, Mrs Armstrong working hand-in-glove with my Mum and Mrs Morris in keeping on top of our grounds.
Jus went to Reading University to get his PhD but I did eventually get to Oxford where I sat my exams gaining another degree in Mathematics then onwards to my own PhD and then post graduate studies and my chair as Professor of Physics where I am to this day although with no wish to put down roots in Oxford, I commute each day.
We try to keep the party spirit alive and well by organising events for everyone such as Halloween, Bonfire night on November 5 th with a massive firework display, Christmas party's for the many kids and New Year celebrations not to mention the many barbeques we scatter over the summer months.
We even have an Events Manageress who documents every time one of our workforce adds to his or her family so we can mark Birthdays, keep everyone informed of everything that's going on and generally be a point of day-to-day contact.
Neither Jus nor I have anything to do with the day to day running of the business, we leave that in the capable hands of Gill and Joe together with their senior management team with us as non-executive directors or figure heads still not drawing a salary.
We try to attend all board meetings and have our say when it comes to important decisions but with my work in Oxford and Jus immersed in various research programs with Reading University, our time is limited to wandering around the shop floor and generally getting in everyone's way!
We have talked of escaping from our life of academia and being rather more proactive, we've even drawn up a timetable to allow this to happen but while everything sails along happily we might just as well make the most of our qualifications and give something back to society, my dress sense not being part of it.
In the event it was perfectly obvious that giving something back started to become something of a priority. Actually it escalated way out of control.
In my drive to prove myself and the manner in which I let my academic work dictate terms, I had been offered opportunities that we far in advance of my years and I was very conscious that to stay at the top of my profession, I couldn't allow anything else to dictate how I managed my time so I started to spend some nights in Oxford.
To begin with, Jus understood and supported me but as time progressed, our time spent together became less and less.
I excused this by saying that my position meant I not only had to be in collage during the day but I also had functions to attend during the evenings.
This was starting to annoy Jus and gentle soul that he was, he let his feels be known in no uncertain terms.
I came back late one evening only to find Jus entertaining a visitor, a young man of about twenty-two and on making my entrance, Jus looked very embarrassed likewise his visitor who made his excuses and dashed off.
Jus assured me that it was all perfectly innocent but still, he hadn't told me he was expecting anyone so jealousy reigned and we had a massive falling out, and I mean megga-massive.
A month later I received a letter informing me that Jus had been offered and had accepted the position of Head of Faculty for Modern Languages at Tennessee State University in Memphis and was leaving the following week.
We were separating and my feelings of total emptiness will never ever leave me.
Yes I tried to talk him round and yes, I made such promises I knew I could keep but he was adamant, I had put my work over and above our relationship so now it was his turn to stretch his legs.
I ploughed into my work in a futile attempt to forget about him but things only got worse. Nothing worked, nothing could shake me out of depression. Had I been a drinker that I swear to God I would've become an alcoholic, instead I just sank into despair and self-loathing.
I resigned my chair.
I had been the youngest person to have occupied such a position and I had over-achieved all expectations but at what cost?
'Money and position maketh not the man' I believe is the phrase but if it's not…… well it works for me.
I took a fight to Memphis.
Jus refused to see me.
I guessed he was seeing someone else and who could blame him after the appalling way I'd treated him.
I went to Memphis a second time but this time, instead of marching up to the University doors and asking for him, I wrote a note telling him I was in town and wanted to talk to him.
This time I got a reply telling me that I ought to go home but along with that message were veiled comments about our past, nothing bad but stuff that gave me hope.
Back home, it was pointed out that okay, Jus had disappeared off the States but he hadn't resigned as a Director of the company so was he still holding on to the past?
I returned to Memphis for the third time, more in hope than expectation. Again he was 'very busy' but signed his note with a kiss.
I returned to England two days later, my route taking me first to Charlotte in North Carolina then onwards to Heathrow.
During this tedious stop-over I had my head buried in the latest edition of Time Magazine when an official approached me.
Am I speaking to Professor Greening?"
"Yeah. That's me.
Is there a problem?"
"No problem Professor but I have something for you together with a request that you don't open this until you're airborne and the seatbelt signs have been switched off.
We've had it scanned and it's perfectly safe so have a nice flight."
This package was about the size of a shoebox and had an envelope fixed to it. I was gagging to open it but my instructions were clear enough so I went back to my magazine.
Eventually my flight was called. This time I'd elected to slash out on a Club Class ticket so we were instructed to board first but I trailed behind, I suppose not wanting to leave the country that was Jus' new home but I was ushered through and took my seat.
The flight was almost full and I kept waiting to meet the occupier of the vacant seat beside me but then we began our push-back and with no one beside me, I closed my eyes in order to hasten the departure.
I must have drifted off to sleep because the next thing I was aware of was being woken by a Stewardess.
"I'm sorry to disturb you Professor but I've been asked to remind you to open your package."
The way she phrased it was funny like I should open my fly or something but then I remembered the parcel.
"It's taped and I don't have a knife."
"I'd seen that so I've got one for you and please? Open the box before the envelope…… I'm told this is very important."
I eyed her suspiciously then took the knife and cautiously cut through the tape.
On removing the lid, inside and encased in straw I saw two bottles of Castella de Benedicte 1963 Shiraz, arguably one of the finest vintages ever to leave Spain!
"If you like Professor, I'll take these and have them uncorked so they can breathe.
I'll leave you to open the envelope in private shall I?"
"Yes thank you but only open one bottle unless you want to carry me off the plane at Birmingham."
"My instructions are to open both and if the first doesn't agree with you then we are to pour the second down the sink."
"Seems like I've little choice.
How come you're so well informed?"
"No you don't and let's just say that someone has gone to great lengths to ensure you get the intended message!
If once you've opened the letter you want to move seats then please press the call button and I'll come running."
Hardly waiting for her to leave I tore open the envelope.
What it contained made my heart stop momentarily as inside was a piece of stiff white card on which had been painted a picture of a tree surrounded by woodland. Leaning against the tree were two boys, their arms around each other as they kissed.
The Family tree!
I flipped the card over and on the reverse was a simple statement.
"Enough. I wanna come home please Alex?"
I had trouble seeing the stewardess reappear as my eyes had misted over to the point of tears.
"If you'd like to follow me Professor?"
"I'm not sure if my legs can carry me!"
"I thought that was going to happen once we touched down in Birmingham, not midway over the Atlantic?"
"Situations change! Where is he?"
"In First Class.
Come with me!"
"Can I Alex? Can I come back home?"
"You never left. We both of us took extended vacations, that's all!"
"Oh thank fuck for that!
I'm so very sorry."
"There's no need to be sorry, we've both got questions to answer but let's face it? Neither of us could've used our qualifications working side by side, we had to go our separate ways for a while, it's just that we went about it the wrong way."
"Yeah but it didn't work. All that time, all that effort and for what?"
"Experience I guess. At the very least we now know where we're at and I for one know that my life is being together with you and fuck everything else."
"I read about your…… umm departure from Oxford. A tad dramatic huh?"
"Where did you read about that? It was a bit frosty but nothing news-worthy?"
"New Scientist magazine actually and they definitely thought it news-worthy!
"Oh for God's sake! I'm a hippy not a sodding celebrity Jus?"
"Professor of Physics, the youngest person ever to hold the chair of head of faculty at one of the most prestigious centres of learning in the world and you're telling me you're not news-worthy?
Get a fucking grip!"
"Okay but I don't feel like I am. I'm just…… me.
What are you going to do now?"
"Take more interest in the Company, also I've been offered the chance to head up a project at Reading University which will mean a couple of days each week then see what happens.
What about you?"
"I don't know. I left Oxford in something of a hurry remember?"
"Didn't you like it there?"
"The work I liked well enough. I was given opportunities to develop ideas, explore various avenues but some things take precedence like us being together.
I might've stayed on had it not been that I was so fucking miserable. I missed you dreadfully and so eventually something had to give. I don't have to be cloistered up in Oxford to do what I do although I'll miss the funding so I'm going to see if I can get some sort of sponsorship from industry."
"Couldn't you get a position at Reading that would give you the same freedom?"
"Yeah, most likely I could but I know how these things work and people don't take kindly to someone like me, an Oxford Don, a smart-arse who has a reputation muscling in on their faculty…… no I go it alone and see what crawls out of the woodwork.
What happened in Memphis to bring you home?"
I only went there to spite you but it backfired on me big time, I bloody hated it there!
Nice people, nice facilities but fuck-all by way of a social life and besides, I was horribly home sick."
"We're going home now…… both of us and together Jus."
"Yeah. How cool is that!
Can we go out with Spook over the summer?"
I wasn't planning on planning anything until the autumn so we can leg it whenever you want, maybe head north onto the Trent and on up to Liverpool, leave the beginning of May and get back sort of early September.
"Just so long as we're together then you can hire a peddalo and go round and round the Serpentine for all I give a shit!"
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