Loneliness

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 9

Over lunch, the conversation centred on Mum's appraisal of Justin's education.

"The main areas we need to focus on are maths and sciences. As I see it Justin, you're a good six months behind where you should be with these.

Modern languages are fine, very good in fact as are the other core subjects so this is what I propose.

As you've never done Latin and don't particularly wish to, while Alexis does that we will concentrate on bringing you up to scratch with these so hopefully by the end of the summer recess you'll be at the same level as Alexis and slightly in advance of where you should be."

Jus looked a little down in the mouth, something Dad was quick to pick up on.

"Why so glum mate? You don't have to do this, y'know?"

"No. No it's not that. I really want to. It's just the thought, you know, the end of summer and……"

"Going back to Down House?"

"Yes. I really, really don't want to go back there!"

"We understand how you feel and you wanna know something? Neither do we and what's more important, neither does your Grandfather. He is very much of the same opinion as us in as much as it would be disastrous for you to return. No one can expect you to achieve in an atmosphere of intimidation and bullying and then there's your mental wellbeing to be taken into consideration. Again, we all believe that it would be very damaging to you should you go back there.

The one obstacle is how your Mum and Dad see it but we have to leave that in your Grandfather's capable hands. You understand, we cannot be seen to be interfering in a private family concern no matter how strongly we may feel."

"You're right. Mum and especially Dad wouldn't take kindly to outside interference. Do you think Grandfather will be able to swing things?"

"Well, if he can't, I don't see anyone could. He might be a bit set in his ways but he can be very convincing!"

I listened to all this intently but took issue with my Dad's last statement.

"Dad, I don't agree with you about Sir George being set in his ways."

"Oh? How so?"

"Well, when we got back last evening, we sat outside on the well deck talking. It was dark and we didn't see him coming but he overheard our conversation which was, umm, a bit personal. Anyway he's in favour, you know, Jus and I?

He had quite a lot to say, all good and oh yeah. You might have to get another bottle of port!"

Mum giggled at this last remark.

"I had noticed it had gone down somewhat and given it's an old fogies tipple, I knew it wasn't you two! So that's where it went!"

I was a bit angry at her last comment.

"Hey! He's not an 'old fogy', he's lovely!!"

Jus leaned into me and gave me a hug, I think the first outward gesture of affection he'd dared to show.

Mum apologised.

"Yes he is and I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I'm sorry. He is a beautiful person. Mouth in motion before the brain is engaged. Anyway I'm pleased you thought to offer him a drink and yes, I'll put another bottle on my shopping list."

Dad stood up and stretched himself.

"I'm getting too old for grovelling around in sumps. I'm going to ache tomorrow.

Come on people, let's get ourselves down to 'Fry's'."


The journey down took only about thirty minutes. The weather was warm and sunny and with only a very light breeze, it would be very difficult to think of a more idyllic lifestyle.

Dad helmed us down but as we were approaching the harbour, he beckoned me to take over.

This wasn't too much of a problem since I was used to doing reliefs when we were on open water but entering a mooring wasn't something I was used to.

"Just throttle back and drift in son. I'm going to jump off and tie up on the centre line. We'll have to move later so there's little point in doing much more than that."

Mum and Dad disappeared into the office and Jus lowered himself down from the roof where he'd been sunbathing.

"You can actually drive this thing?"

"Umm, not really. I do a little bit when we're out but that's the first time I've ever come along side."

"I think you did pretty well. Do you think Tim would let me have a go sometime?"

"I know he would! One of the reasons we don't take her out much is because Dad doesn't much like driving. He much rather be up front on the well deck sunning himself and sipping a gin and tonic."

"What about Kaz?"

"No she hates it! Since I've been old enough to relieve him, I've never seen Mum on the tiller.

Dad keeps nagging me to do more of the driving, get more experience and stuff and sometimes like just then, he forces the issue. I mean there wasn't any need for me to take over, he's more than able to come along side and tie off by himself."

Just at that moment Mum and Dad walked out of the office together with the man we'd seen that day at the house.

Dad called us over.

"Come on you two. Showtime!"

We jumped off the boat and joined them just as the guy from the boat yard unlocked the side door of the warehouse, shook Mum and Dad's hand before winking at the pair of us and disappearing back to the office.

Dad had that stupid grin on his face again, obviously very excited about something.

"Okay you boys. Before we go inside, we've got a bit of explaining to do.

Alexis, you are fast growing up and it was always our intention to do something in order that you have a bit more privacy. The fact that Justin arrived on the scene when he did and that your relationship is how it is, we decided that rather than leaving it until your birthday, we'd like fast-forward things slightly, so…….. Welcome to, if not your new home, your own private space!" and with that, he threw open the doors.

Inside was a narrow boat, about 40 foot long, unpainted except for the standard bitumen hull and grey primer to the top side and deck house.

" Mine??"

"Yes! Yours son. She's even registered in your name.

I was speechless! I must've looked like a complete idiot as I just stared at her, tears cascading down my face!

It was Jus who broke the silence.

"Wow! She's just beautiful!"

It was Mum this time who took up the slack.

"Well Justin, she will once she's had a paint job. You see, we couldn't make up our minds as to the livery hence the primer coat but that's no bad thing because now, you and Alexis can decide what you'd like colour-wise and we can get Jack to come up and do the work."

I finally found my voice.

"Mum? Dad? I don't know what to say!"

Dad gave me a fatherly squeeze.

"Then don't say anything until you've seen inside. We've had her completely refitted, I designed the layout myself and did a lot of the work to include just about everything you need to give you as much independence as you want. Just don't be too much of a stranger, huh?

Come on, let's go below."

We walked to the rear of the dock were Dad handed me a set of keys.

"Go on the son, you lead the way and I'll explain a few things as we go."

I stepped on to the after deck and unlocked the stern hatch and just before I made a start down the companion way, Dad handed me a torch.

"Go down a couple of steps and shine it to your left. You'll see a fuse panel, just flick on 'lighting 1 and 2' so we can see where we're going."

Three steps below and I was looking into the engine room but noticeably, no engine!

"Isn't there something missing Dad?"

"Well spotted! Not a lot gets past you does it!

You know we're not exactly made of money so when we went on the lookout for a boat for you, the criteria was simple. Solid but cheap! So long as the bottom was sturdy, everything else could be repaired or improved.

We saw this baby and believe me, she was in one hell of a mess but the price reflected her poor condition. We had the hull inspected, you've got just under half an inch of steel under your feet, that's more than 'Casio' so satisfied she wasn't about to break her back, we bought her.

Everything in the cabins had to be torn out but that's no big deal as with some help from Jack, I could do the refit but when we came to look at the engine, that was a different proposition altogether.

It ran, just, but in truth it was shot to bits and way beyond my capabilities to repair it.

What it needed was to be completely stripped down and re-engineered from the ground up. It would've cost a bundle of money which we just didn't have and so I was thinking about replacing it with a modern diesel engine but that would've been a pity 'cos what we had was an original Lister JP2, the Rolls-Royce of early diesels.

It was Jack's boss who came up with the solution.

Your engine is down at Thorneycroft's factory where it's being used as a project by them to train their apprentice machinists and fitters. It will be completely rebuilt to an 'as new' standard and all we have to pay for are any replacement parts. All the engineering time is free as they get valuable hands-on experience, and you get a professionally rebuilt engine."

"Wow. Far-out Dad! When do we get it back?"

"When do you get it back, you mean? I think the answer to that is 'as and when'. Under the circumstances we can hardly expect them to work to a deadline."

Justin came and stood beside me, taking my hand in his.

"Would you mind if I asked you something Tim?

"Fire away man!"

"It's just nobody's asked what she's called."

"Good point! Just remember, so long as she's out of the water, you can rechristen her calling her whatever you want but right now she's called 'Spook'."

Jus broke into a fit of the giggles.

"Spook?! "

I gave him a playful dig in the ribs.

"Actually I rather like it! Sounds pretty good! I don't ever remember seeing another boat called that. Have you Mum?"

Mum shook her head.

"No and you probably never will. We checked with Thames Conservancy and also the British Waterways Board and so far as we can ascertain, your 'Spook' is a one-off.

Can we please go on through? I've not been allowed to see the finished article and I can't wait!"


The first cabin forward of the engine room was the galley, much more compact than 'Casio's' but with clever utilisation of floor and bulkhead space meant there was plenty of storage, a four ring gas hob and an oven and grill below.

The work surfaces were in a 'U' shape so no one would have to squeeze past each other and directly opposite the cooker was a small 12 volt refrigerator positioned under the counter. Above that, suspended from the ceiling, was a double cupboard with leaded glass doors, all the woodwork and panelling set out in Ash and Rosewood, the same hews I so much loved on 'Casio'.

Forward of the galley but not screened off was the dinette which could seat four, two either side of the table. Under the bench seats was more storage space and Dad explained that the table could be easily unplanted, lowered to sit in between the benches and by rearranging the cushions and back rests, would convert down into an extra double bunk in the event I had visitors.

Forward of the dinette was a shower room, hand basin and cassette toilet all contained within its own cabin and again, clever use of bulkhead space for yet more storage.

Next to that along the passage was a wardrobe and then a door which led through into a beautiful living area / bedroom and like the rest of the boat, all the panelling and fittings were of Ash and Rosewood.

The couch was designed to fold down into a double bed at night and as a couch during the daytime would seat three people comfortably and with the step in front of the doors that accessed the well deck converting into a spacious single chair, gave seating for four.

Right at the front port-side was a multi-fuel stove fitted with a back boiler which was in turn connected to an 'indirect' heating coil inside a callorifier which would supply not just domestic hot water but also radiator central heating throughout the boat.

To say I was completely overwhelmed was perhaps the understatement of the century!

"Is she really mine Dad?"

I could see that Dad was on the verge of tears as his reply was barely audible.

"Yes son. She really is all yours."


We spent the next half hour or so taking a more detailed look around, ferreting through the empty cupboards and drawers and Dad showing Justin and I the layout and functions of the various controls and switchgear before he turned to us.

"I think it's about time we coupled her up and headed for home, don't you? You boys will probably be anxious to sleep on her tonight and as we've been invited for supper up at the house, we've a lot to do to move you in."

Dad had me fire the engine on 'Casio' and then swing her around midstream and reverse back in towards the wet dock, 'Casio's' stern facing 'Spook's' bow until there was around four foot separating the two boats where Dad tied me off.

"Now that wasn't so difficult, was it!"

"Dad, I'm so hyped up, I didn't even think about what I was doing. I just sort of 'did it'!"

"If you could but let yourself relax more, you could be an okay helmsman. Now you climb aboard your boat while I lash them together and we'll be off. Just follow my lead, left to my left, right to my right and everything will be fine."

With Mum and Dad on 'Casio' and Jus and I on 'Spook', we headed off back upstream.

It was weird steering an unpowered craft and I kept reaching for a non-existent throttle.

I was to find out that the old engines like the one being rebuilt didn't have a multiplex throttle and gearbox control but rather a brass rod which you pushed forward to engage forward thrust, centre it for neutral and pull it back for reverse thrust. There was a separate brass wheel which turned clockwise increased the engine revolutions, counter clock to reduce them. All very different from 'Casio'.

The trip back was uneventful and as we approached our moorings, Dad indicated that he was going to turn in a wide arc so both boats would be facing back the way we'd come.

Everything went okay although without power, there was little I could do not to nudge 'Casio's' stern fender as we neared the jetty.

Dad just grinned at me, giving me the 'thumbs-up' for a job well done.

We tied off and separated the two boats and as we stepped onto the jetty, I was able to see 'Spook' for the first time in proper daylight.

She was really sweet!

At only just over half the length of 'Casio', she looked like a Dinky Toy but her lines were graceful, almost elegant.

Apart from the living area / bedroom, she was a porthole boat but as Dad explained, this would make her easier to keep warm come the winter and as the portholes could be completely opened, she'd be reasonably cool in the summer.

What are known as pigeon coops were set into the roof like little apex roofs with circular sealed windows on either side. Dad had used prisms to amplify what light they emitted making what would otherwise be a dark interior, surprisingly bright and as prisms tend to split light into its component colours, like rainbows, the effect on the woodwork was like a little piece of magic. I was totally in love for the second time in as many weeks!

Mum and Dad bless them, left us to transfer the bedding, my clothes and personal bits and pieces from one boat to the other but Mum suggested that my winter clothing might be better left on 'Casio' for the time being and if I wanted her to, she'd come on board at a later date and help me better organise things.

Mean time Dad had been busy as well.

He appeared with a trolley full of crockery and cutlery, cooking utensils and the beginnings of a larder.

Tea, coffee, milk, sugar, bread, butter, bottles of pop, eggs, bacon and sausages and some tins of various bits and pieces promising we'd do a proper 'shop' once we were settled in.

He then called me outside where he pointed to a reel of hosing.

"This, son of mine, is a one-time only offer. I'm going to fill your water tank. It's been sterilised so it's okay to drink but from now on, it's your responsibility to keep it topped up, okay?"

"Yes Dad. I promise."

"The other thing, keep the hose in your engine room. Even if you don't run the engine up that often, it's below the waterline so the risk of it freezing is minimal. Trust me, the last thing you need is a split hosepipe when you're desperate for water!"

"Talking about the engine? Will you be able to refit it?"

"Not by myself, it's a two-man job but you and I together? Yeah it's a goer!"

"But I don't know anything about engines."

"You will by the time we're done! Also it would be good if Justin's around because you might not know it but mechanics is a big part of physics and this experience would be really beneficial to him. It's not all about getting your hands dirty!"

"That's the other thing, isn't it.

What's going to happen to him Dad?"

"You want the truth? I've no idea son.

I'd like to think he'll get relocated to another school where he can be happy but as I told both of you before, it has to be his parent's decision, not ours."

"What if…….."

"Go on. Tell me? What if what?"

"It's a silly idea Dad."

"No. Come on mate. Spill it?"

"What if……. What if Jus could stay here?

I mean if you and Mum get his grades together, he gets examined and everything and he's improved, you could show his folks how much better he's doing by being with us and well…."

Dad drew me into a massive hug.

"That, my boy, has been discussed. Sir George and Lady Eleanor are in complete agreement as are we. There is still the problem of Justin's Mum and Dad who are, or rather seem to be hell bent on him receiving a private education and I'm not sure there's any way around it."

I clung onto my Dad in a way I hadn't for many years but my mind was in full drive.

"Dad?"

"Alexis?"

"You and Mum. Jus and me, well it doesn't get more 'private' than that, does it? It's a 'one on one' tuition and you know he enjoys it so…..?"

"You cunning little….. devil!! You scheming little so-and-so!! You had this all mapped out, didn't you!"

"We'd talked about it, yeah, but not really hoping for much."

"It's a totally flawless argument, I agree with that, but still the fact remains that their reasons for keeping Justin at Downs shows that their attitude to what happened in the past isn't on our side.

A part of me can see where they're from. Their belief that some peer-pressure will change how he feels about things is common place but in all our opinions, is out dated and unfair on him.

I'm satisfied that you especially embarked on this journey because you felt it was natural. Your innocence meant that you only went with your emotions, what you felt deep-down was right for you rather than some kick you were getting out of it. You will just have to leave it with us for now son. In the meantime, I suggest you and Justin get cleaned up. We're due up at the house in an hour."

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