by Andrew Foote
"Good Lord! Is that the time?
I'd better get back before the lady of the house gets it into her head that I've been kidnapped and calls the police!
Look. Just be gentle with each other. You have the rest of your lives ahead of you so don't go rushing your fences you two!"
As Justin stood up and helped his Grandfather to his feet, Sir George made one final comment before retracing his steps back to the house.
"Well boys? Now everything is out in the open, I will suggest to the Memsahib that we all eat together up at the house tomorrow evening that is of course once you've got back from Fry's Island."
"You know about that then sir?"
"Do you know why we're going there?"
"I do and so I suspect you do not Alexis."
"No sir. Not the foggiest idea."
"Well then, that little snippet of information will have to remain with me then! Let us just say, it is something for me to know and for you to find out tomorrow afternoon!
Good night boys."
Once I was sure he was well out of earshot, I breathed a big sigh of relief and promptly feigned a physical collapse on to the well deck prompting laughter from Justin.
"Please no more surprises? I don't think I could take anymore?"
Justin looked around him before scaring the crap out of me.
"Oh God! My parents are here!!"
" What?? Where. I mean………"
"You SOD! You total ratbag! What did you do that for?"
"Just getting you back for making me laugh that time. I laughed so much I thought I'd given myself a hernia."
"Okay, we're evens now, yeah?"
"Yes but only until the next time!
Can we go inside? It's getting a bit chilly out here."
"Probably nervous exhaustion. It's been a pretty scary day hasn't it."
We made our way below decks and drew the blinds. The soft lighting had the effect of accentuating the warmth of the Ash and Rosewood panelling, something that, when I was younger made me feel safe and cosy and right then I had a sort of flashback to those times which brought a lump to my throat.
"Jus? Can I have a cuddle?"
"You don't have to ask, just take." And so saying, he walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me pulling me in close.
I just stood there, motionless, aware of everything around me. Jus, the lights, the woodwork and I suddenly let out a solitary sob.
He spoke very softly, you know, in a really caring sort of way.
"Wassup Alex? What's upsetting you?"
"That's the funny thing. There's nothing upsetting me. Everything is about as perfect as it gets.
Come on, let's sit down. I really need to get my head straight."
Jus sat on the bench seating, I lay down on it, my head in his lap. I closed my eyes for a moment, then looked up into his eyes.
"Take a look around you. What do you notice and how does it make you feel?"
He took a look for a minute then said,
"The first thing I notice is the terrific woodwork and the fantastic way the lights make everything feel………… I don't know……….. friendly?"
See, when I was little, I used to love night time down here. Like you said, the way the lights give all the wood that dark yellow and red look. It always made me feel safe and I dunno, secure?
I used to grizzle like crazy when I was put to bed because it was dark, not because I was scared but because I missed the colours.
Mum and Dad relented and allowed me a nightlight, you know, like a baby candle in a glass thingy?
Anyway, I know kids who are frightened of the shadows that sort of thing made but to me, it was like my friends were dancing on the walls and the ceiling. Really comforting, y'know?
Anyhow, you know when I asked you to cuddle me? I'd sort of gone back in time for a moment like everything had jumped back five or six years and I felt so safe, warm and……… loved."
"You know you have all of those things. You're warm and safe and definitely loved. So why so tearful?"
"Dunno. I'm not normally. Maybe I should ask Mum. She'll know.
I'm going to shower in the morning. I'm really tired. You coming to bed?"
No. No nothing went on!
We went to bed……….. naked of course but as God is my witness, I must've fallen asleep within a couple of minutes and as Jus told me the following morning, he wasn't far behind me.
I woke, as normal, with the dawn chorus.
I slipped out of bed, trying hard to let my 'sleeping beauty' ……sleep and made my way to the stern and out onto the after deck, lowering myself silently into the water.
As always, the water felt welcoming and refreshing, the temptation to float around on my back, almost irresistible but I remembered that it was Monday and the workmen would be making a prompt start and so modesty took control, ducking under the jetty at the first sign of movement.
Back inside, I grabbed a towel and dried myself off, lit the gas under the kettle then sat down and waited for it to boil. The idea crossed my mind that it would be nice to make us breakfast in bed but as my culinary skills began and ended at boiled eggs and soldiers and given Mum and Dad would be back in an hour or so, tea would have to be about it.
Kettle boiled and tea brewed, I took two mugs back into my sleeping area and sat them on a shelf by the side of the bed.
Jus was laying on his tummy, obviously still asleep, the bedding covering him only from his knees down.
Oh God he looked so beautiful?
His tanned torso, slim and trim, narrowing down to his waist accentuating his fabulous bubble-bum, his thighs, not overly muscular but firm, and smooth.
I leant over and planted a big kiss in the small of his back, gently stoking the cheeks of his bum.
"Is that you mother?"
"Just kidding! I've been awake for ages, pretty much since you went swimming.
You know the sound of the water against the….the….err….."
"Yes that's it, hull. Well it's quite noisy.
I was rather hoping you'd make some tea, my mouth feels and tastes like a gorilla shit in it!"
"Oh very poetic I must say!
You really know how to woo your boyfriend, don't you!!"
"You want poetry? Listen to this!
'Arsehole,.. arsehole,… a soldier I will be!!! To fight for the old cunt, fight for the old cunt, fight for the old country, HEY!!!!!'
So do you think I'll ever get published?"
I am now in serious trouble!
I'd just reached for my mug and was now on the verge of hysterics, now in danger of spilling scalding hot tea all over the place.
With some difficulty, I managed to get it safely back on the shelf and trying hard to suppress my laughter, I replied,
"Not with that you won't!"
"Okay so now the final part of my trilogy…….
'Now I'm fond of fucking, it is my delight.
I once fucked a girl fifty times in one night.
And each time I fucked her I came quite a quart.
If you don't call that fucking, you fucking well ought'"
Tears of uncontrollable laughter spilled down my face.
"Oh please? No way man?"
"Okay. Final bit of persuasion then.
'The Captain inspected our horses one day.
He looked at my charger and then he did say.
'Your horse is too thin and it's got a bad cough',
I said 'You're too fat and you'd better fuck off!!'
I was so doubled-up, crying with laughter, I never even heard my parents board the boat!
"You guys okay in there? I mean we're back already??"
I was incapable of answering them so Jus took up the mantle.
"Yes thanks, we're fine or at least I am and Alex will be once he's stopped laughing!"
Jus threw some clothes on and left me to compose myself. It took a while, but once I'd got dressed and finished my tea, I ambled out into the main cabin.
"Ahh. The laughing jester surfaces then!"
"Be gone dark clouds and leave me to mine own devices. 'Tis too early the day to countenance thy wickedness."
Dad laughed at this.
"So you remembered Shakespeare's 'Coriolanus' then son!"
"More, 'tis better to speak of poetry hitherto unspoken than to wrestle with harsh words unkindly voiced my Lord."
"Dear God Alexis! Where did all that come from!"
"'From the teachings of my Lady Kassandra sir. No better tutor in the Kingdom.' Anyhow it's better if not as funny as Jus's stuff!!"
"So you're something of a poet are you Justin? Can we hear some of it?"
"No!" we both shouted
"Oh alright so it's more like limericks then."
"Umm, yeah I guess so."
"Right. Now talking of our Lady Kassandra, Justin? You and Kaz will get together so we can get a better idea of where you're at with your studies while you and I Alexis, are going to do some practical work so if you can go and get changed into something that won't matter if it gets a bit grubby and a stout pair of shoes, your walking boots will do, I'll finish my coffee and we can press on."
Dad and I walked up in the direction of the boathouse, my curiosity finally getting the better of me.
"What are we going to be doing Dad?"
"We're going to finish installing a water pump, wire it in and test it then we'll drain the boathouse, check that the stop-boards don't leak too much, refill, remove the stop-boards and job done."
"Okay so we're converting it into like a dry dock then."
"Not so much converting as reinstating. It always used to be able to be drained but over time things started to deteriorate, the pump seized, sections of the pipework corroded away, the stop-boards rotted and so on. I've completed most of the repairs but what we are going to do this morning is a two man job and anyway, it might be useful for you to understand how it works and how to use it."
"But why? I mean Sir George doesn't have a boat anymore and no way would 'Casio' fit in there like she's 72 foot long?"
"You're right on both counts. I've measured up and at a squeeze, a 40 foot boat would just about fit."
"I still don't get it."
"Okay. Look if you had a facility like this, you'd want it operational, wouldn't you?"
"Yes sure I would but……"
"Sir George is of the same mind, okay?"
"If you say so but I still don't understand."
Dad ruffled my hair,
"Look. Can it with the questions already! Let's just do the job and maybe another time you'll understand the purpose of it all."
Once inside, Dad took me to the rear of the boathouse into a fairly large kind of workshop area and pointed out a section of the floor which wasn't concrete but instead was boarded over.
"First job is to lift these floorboards up so we can get to the sump."
We raised the boards to reveal a concrete-lined pit about five foot square and six or seven foot deep, a steel ladder was bolted to the wall to allow access and there were two six inch pipes each with a large bulbous-shaped stopcock bolted to them. In between these, set into the concrete floor were four by inch and a half stainless steel studs on which we were to mount the pump.
Dad took me over to a trolley covered over with a tarpaulin which he removed to reveal the biggest pump I'd ever seen then proceeded to attach it to a block and tackle suspended from a moveable 'A' frame.
"Right. Give a pull on that chain and let's see if you're strong enough to lift it. It's pretty low-geared so you should be able to manage it."
It actually wasn't very difficult and once I'd lifted it clear of the trolley, Dad moved it out of the way and then showed me how the 'A' frame was moved by rotating two large spoked metal wheels, one to move the entire frame down the length of the boathouse, the other moving the pulley assembly across its width.
"Okay son, move it so the pump is positioned roughly over the centre of the sump then lower it down until I tell you to stop." And with that he climbed down the ladder giving me directions.
"Okay, bit more, bit more and whoa. Stop! Now, up on the work bench is a box with a load of stainless steel nuts and four rubber doughnut-shaped engine mounts. Can you pass it down to me?"
Dad ran two nuts down each of the studs then placed a large stainless steel washer on top of them followed by a rubber mount and another washer.
"Now this is the tricky bit. We've got to position the pump so it's directly over the mounts before we can lower it into position so no sudden movements or we'll damage the studs, okay?"
Fifteen minutes later and it was down.
Dad then called me down into the sump and showed me how to level the pump and also how to use the lower two lock nuts to adjust the height relative to the pipework.
This done, he removed the blanking plates from either side of the pump, fitted flexible couplings and a series of spiral-wound gaskets and bolted the whole assembly together.
The electrical feed on the pump had been factory fitted to ensure it was water tight so now all that was left was to connect the three-phase connections to a star-delta starter, the extension rods and hand wheels to the stopcocks and we were in business. We replaced the floor boards but only after the cocks had been opened to flood the pump and Dad was happy the pipework was free of leaks.
Dad grinned at me.
"Nice work mate! Shall we see what's what then?"
He showed me how to use the star-delta before grabbing a long measuring pole, making his way to the river entrance.
"Okay son, hit it!"
First one way to allow the pump to start and gradually build up speed then pushing the starter control in the other so the motor could run at full speed.
The water level dropped fairly quickly and once it had lowered by about three feet, Dad yelled for me to stop the pump, lowered the measuring pole into the water then pulled it back out and cut a notch where the water had reached before dropping it back into the water and waited about five minutes during which time he wandered back over to where I was standing.
"Just checking to see if the stop boards are holding okay and more importantly, if the flood paddle's in one piece. Can't easily check that with the place full of water! If everything checks out then we can give it a damn good greasing which should ease it off as at the moment it's stiff as hell."
Dad rechecked the water level and gave me the thumbs-up to continue empting and after about ten minutes all that was left was around an inch and a half of water and a couple of fish flapping about on the bottom.
Reaching for a bucket of grease and an old paint brush, he climbed down the ladder and set about the task of lubricating the paddle runners and screw threads then once he was satisfied, he climbed back up and gave the paddle wheel a twist first up a bit then down, up down, up down then happy it had freed off, raised the paddle to the top allowing the water to once again flood the dock.
"We've got about half an hour before we're due back so let's take a seat and have a talk son."
I think this was the bit I was dreading. My Dad giving me 'the talk'!
Actually it wasn't bad at all.
"Are you happy? Look, I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable but you're still very young and I need to know, I need to be 100% sure."
"I'm really happy Dad, I've always been alright but before, I just accepted life as it was. Now it's completely changed. I love being around Jus and he with me. We laugh a lot, cry a lot too. Oh damn!! I meant to ask Mum about that!!"
"Umm, yeah, I suppose."
"Talk to me about it then. We're both blokes?"
"It just seems I get tearful for no real reason.
Scary things happen and I can cope with them but then really nice things come along and I cry like a baby. I'm really confused Dad."
Dad pulled me close to him.
"Not too old to give your Dad a cuddle I hope!"
"That'll never happen! I love you Dad." And with that the tears started to roll down my face.
"See what I mean?"
"Let them roll. There's no shame in giving way to your emotions, in fact, it's a very beautiful character trait and one you should cherish but you'd like to know why it's happening, wouldn't you?"
Dad carried on, not waiting for me to answer.
"There are two reasons. Number one, you're starting to grow up.
We've talked to you about puberty and the way your body will change but it doesn't end there.
Perhaps you are slightly in advance to where I was at your age but the symptoms are exactly the same because the first indicator is a change in your mental state. Gone the happy-go-lucky childhood things and in come the feelings of adolescence.
No. It isn't nice.
It happens too fast for you to be able to readjust but please don't think you're alone, okay? We've all of us been there son so don't get upset about it, right?
The second thing is love. You and Justin.
In the eyes of the wider community, no it won't appear 'normal' nor will many people find it acceptable but remember this, they're not living your life and they have no idea how you feel inside. Prejudices might follow you for the rest of your life, things will no doubt be very difficult for you but you must, MUST be true to yourself, to your feelings and most importantly, to Justin, and he to you.
I also know you realise this but even if your feelings were directed towards a girl, you'd still feel tearful sometimes. Unfortunately that is how love is and nothing I can say or do will change anything. Just remember, Mum and I are here, not only for you but also Justin should he need us.
Are you alright?"
"I think so. I'm better at least. Thanks Dad."
"Talk to me anytime. We both of us love you Alexis. Don't bottle anything up.
We'd better be heading back, we've still got a busy afternoon ahead of us."
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