by Andrew Foote

Chapter 15

Breakfast done.

The mood had lightened for all of us but I was still interested to understand what had been said when all the adults had gathered on 'Casio' the previous evening but it could wait. While Jus seemed on pretty good form, I wondered how little it would take to knock him over and as we had barely two weeks to call our own, I wasn't in any hurry to find out.

"I think I should spend what's left of their time here with my parents Alex. Sorry but I don't believe my Mother at least would appreciate me not being around."

"No. You go ahead. I don't believe your Father would appreciate seeing me anyway.

I'll be here. I won't be going anywhere."

I didn't feel upset or sad, maybe a touch melancholy but it did make me wonder when I rounded up the dogs, if they were also slightly lacking in enthusiasm as well?

Yes of course they were eager to play but when I sat down, instead of play-fighting with each other, they seemed happy just to sit at my feet.

I know now that all animals possess a degree of intelligence to some extent but dogs? They are really perceptive creatures and now in the 21 st century, we use them to 'sniff out' illness such as cancer and the like but back to my childhood, even then I was conscious of their ability to sense the needs, the mood of their handlers and these blokes were no exception. I had never seen them so affectionate towards me, so attentive and dare I say it, loving, as if in an attempt to support my flagging strength.

Possibly my favourite was Dizzy, so named because he was a total head-case and never in a million years would he have made it as a gun dog!

Instead of just sitting on the grass, he sat on his hind legs in between my knees, his big soulful eyes looking up at me all the while.

I tried my best to ignore him but it was impossible. I lost it big time.

Fortunately I was far enough from both the house and the boats not to be heard as this was by no means a silent cry, I really let go and with this, Dizzy stood up putting his front paws on my thighs and rested his head on my shoulder, staying there until I'd cried myself out.

God, did that feel good! All the stress and anxiety of the last twenty-four hours seemed to flow out of me during those few short moments almost giving me a whole new lease of life. Even the dogs seemed to understand as they stood up nosing the ball towards me encouraging me to play.

I spotted my Dad making his way up to the house dressed in his chauffeurs' uniform, he also saw me and made his way over to where I was standing.

"You look like crap Alexis. Are you okay?"

"I had a bit of an emotional outburst, stress relief you might call it. I'm much better now thanks."

"Good. So long as you are.

Why don't you round up the hounds and come up to the house with me. The Armstrong's are about ready to leave and it wouldn't do your cred any harm to show 'him' you're not fazed by his interrogation of you yesterday. Show him you're made of sterner stuff and anyway, I'm sure Julia would like to say good-bye even if he blanks you. She's quite taken to you, did you know that?"

"Oh gosh! I mean she is really nice isn't she!"

"You've good taste and that's a fact! Come on, you look better already!"

I whistled the dogs to heel and walked with Dad up to the house.

Dad noticed how well the dogs obeyed me.

"How do you do that? They hang on your every command!"

"They just like me I suppose. I've not set out to deliberately train them or anything, they just do it."

"Remarkable! Do you have a favourite?"

"I know I shouldn't but yes, Dizzy."

"He's the loopy one isn't he? Why him?"

"Dad, not now or you'll set me off again. I'll tell you later if you don't mind."

"Okay, whatever you want son."

We reached the house as a couple of suitcases were being brought from the house. Jus was waiting by the front door and walked over to meet us.

"Alex? I've decided to go to the airport and see my parents off. Do you mind?"

"No that's fine. I understand. How you holding up?"

"Not too bad I suppose all things considered. You?"

"Bit of a panic attack earlier but much better having got that out of the way!

Come back quickly won't you."

"I'm not the driver but I'll have a little word with your Dad!

I won't go if you'd rather I didn't?"

"No. You go with them. I'll be fine."

At that point Mr and Mrs Armstrong came out of the house with Sir George and Lady Eleanor close behind.

Mr Armstrong looked at me, completely ignored me and got into the car but Mrs Armstrong smiled and walked over to where we were standing.

"Alex? You can have little idea how much, how good it has been to meet you!

I feel I must apologise for Gerald's attitude, it was quite frankly, unforgivable and I have told him as much.

You are a fine and very personable young man and yes, I'm pleased my son has your friendship and affection.

Look after each other." And with that she kissed me on both cheeks, turned and got into the Bentley.

Dad started the engine but they didn't immediately drive away.

The rear near-side door opened and Mr Armstrong got out and approached me.

"I feel I must offer you an apology. My conduct yesterday afternoon was wrong and even though I cannot condone a relationship between you and my son, that doesn't give me the right to proceed against you the way I did.

Alexis? My hand by way of a truce. You are a remarkable boy. You will undoubtedly go far in your life"

We shook hands, our eyes never leaving each other's.

He turned, stepped back into the car and they were gone.

"Well there's a turn-up for the books!"

Sir George had been listening the whole time although I'd not noticed.

"To get him to admit an apology is something of a first and that's a fact also you didn't have to say word!"

"Thanks Sir but it still doesn't change anything."

"Oh I don't know. Doesn't it? Rome wasn't built in a day y'know?

Listen here young'un.

Before we met, I had no thoughts either way about Justin's schooling. Yes of course we were aware of what had happened but we put his sour attitude down to, oh how should I phrase this……..adolescent growing pains? Never for one minute did we think his life at Down House was the cause of it but now? Well it's as clear as the nose on my face where the problem was and that's the difference y'see? We all know and everyone with the exception of Gerald would change things but he is of the opinion that this is something that Justin has to deal with."

"How does that help Sir?"

"Awareness. We can now be sensitive to his needs, better able to respond to him. He knows we are here to help and support him and there's something else Alex, and that is you.

He now has a focal-point, someone to think about, to give him strength and purpose."

"I worry what will happen if we have to move on again."

"Ahh! Now I understand! You think that because the regatta is over I'll ask you to move on, am I right?"

"Well it was only ever going to be a temporary agreement wasn't it?"

"Initially yes but things change you see.

The memsahib has found a wonderful new friend in your mother and it has transformed her from being an elderly lady resting back waiting to die to a completely different person, so full of life and vigour.

For my part, I have asked Tim, your father, if he would accept a full time position as my personal assistant but understand me, I do not regard him as an employee, he is also my friend and confidante.

I shouldn't tell you this but he has reintroduced me to the benefits of hashish! Works wonders for my rheumatism but don't go telling my doctor will you, he's terribly old fashioned!"

This brought a smile to my face, a mental picture of Sir George as an eighty year-old junky dressed in a caftan and sandals with flowers in his hair sitting cross-legged on the grass, a reefer held in a pair of tweezers being passed around amongst a group of equally aging hippies, 'King Crimson' playing in the background!

I was brought back to reality by Sir George.

"Oh yes, there was one other thing. There's a letter on the hall table which is addressed to your father but he thinks it's probably more for you than him so if you want to go and get it?"

I returned with the envelope.

"It's from Thorneycroft sir."

"So I saw Alex."

"I hope its good news about my engine?"

"Well you won't know until you open it will you!"

I ripped open the letter and read it out loud.

"Dear Mr Greening. I take great pleasure in informing you that your Lister JP2 has now been rebuilt in our apprentice school and is now ready for reinstallation.

I am equally happy to inform you that the greater majority of the work necessary to return your engine to an 'as new' condition, we were able to undertake without the need for spare parts, indeed the only item we were unable to repair or re-machine was the diesel injector pump and therefore I am enclosing an invoice to cover that item, a total amount payable of £5/10 (Five pounds and ten shillings.)

Further to the rebuild, it would be a very useful exercise for our apprentices to reinstall the unit on your boat and if you are in agreement, we will be happy to make arrangements for this work to be undertaken upon full settlement of the attached invoice.

Cordially yours,

John Bishop

Technical Director

Thorneycroft Marine Diesels Limited.

"Wow! Dad thought we would have to fit it!"

"Now that is indeed good news!

I'll tell you what? Why don't we, instead of waiting around here, take a drive to Thorneycroft's factory, pay that invoice and make arrangements for the installation."

"Umm, I don't have that much money, I'd have to wait for Dad to get back and besides, he's got your car."

"I'll pay the invoice, Tim can give me the money later and as for transport, we do have the memsahib's old jalopy? What say you Alex?"

"Well if you're sure, that would be fantastic!"

"Good! That's settled then. Let me go and tell the old girl where we're going."

Ten minutes later and we were heading down Mapledurham Hill. Lady Eleanor's 'old jalopy' was in fact a Morris 'Isis' convertible and it was obvious that Sir George was a fan of fast driving.

"I love driving this car! Far more fun than the Bentley! She goes pretty well for an old crock don't you think?"

"It's not that old is it Sir? It is pretty fast!"

"She's got to be twenty-five years old now but the memsahib stopped driving about ten years ago so there aren't that many miles on the clock. Your father recently gave her a thorough servicing and so now she runs better than ever!"

We arrived at the Thorneycroft Plant in double-quick time and once we'd parked up we made our way into the reception area.

The young lady behind the desk looked up at us.

"Good morning sir. May I help you?"

"A very good morning to you too madam.

Would it be possible to see Mr John Bishop for a moment?"

"Well I'm not sure. He's a very busy man sir but if I might take your name, I'll ask his secretary."

"My name is Sir George Appleby."

"Oh. I see. I'll just be a few minutes if you would like to take a seat."

We sat down, the receptionist scurried off into a back office.

"One good thing about having a title Alex. It tends to open doors that would otherwise remain closed!!"

"This is really kind of you Sir?"

"Nonsense my boy! I'm enjoying myself as well!"

Just then, a door at the far end of the reception hall opened and a very distinguished gentleman together with the receptionist made their way to where we were sat.

The receptionist smiled at us and gestured in our direction before returning to her duties.

"Sir George Appleby? My name is John Bishop. To what do I owe the honour of your visit?"

The two men shook hands as Sir George replied.

"Thank you for agreeing to see us Mr Bishop, I understand well the pressures of being a company director.

Actually it is this young man you see before you that has business with Thorneycroft, not I. I am merely here as the facilitator of his visit here today.

May I introduce Alexis Greening to you?"

We both shook hands.

"It's very nice to meet you young man.

Greening. I should know that name, forgive me."

"If I might explain sir, you very kindly agreed to allow your apprentices to rebuild my Lister JP and we're here to settle your invoice and hopefully make the arrangements for its reinstallation."

"Yes. Now I recall but the gentleman I had dealings with was a Mr Timothy Greening."

"Yes sir, he's my father however the engine belongs to me as does the boat it came out of and be reinstalled in. It seemed right and proper that I should be the one to thank you personally rather than my Dad."

"Most refreshing!"

He turned and addressed the receptionist.

"Mavis? Would you be so kind as to take this invoice and the monies then give the receipted copy-invoice to this young man please?"

He turned back to Sir George and I.

"Thank you. Prompt settlement is always appreciated.

Now. About the reinstallation.

I am not aware of our training manager's schedule but my guess is that you would like to have your engine back sooner rather than later."

"That would be nice sir."

"In that case, do you have any dates or times to be avoided?"

"None at all sir. We're happy to fit in around your schedules but a day or so notice would be appreciated."

"Quite so. That won't cause us any problems. Do you have a telephone number we could call?"

Sir George interjected.

"It would probably be as well to call me. Either my wife or I are generally about the place, Alexis is mostly out and about. Our number is Caversham 3232 and I will make sure young Alexis here gets receipt of your message."

"Excellent! I will try to telephone you with a date later on today, otherwise it will be Monday.

It has been a very great pleasure to meet you Sir George and of course, you as well Alexis. I hope our boys have done a first-class job and you derive many happy years of boating from it young man."

We walked from the building towards the car.

Sir George spoke.

"I hope you didn't mind me interfering back there Alex?"

"Did you? Interfere I mean?"

"Yes I did, when Mr Bishop asked for your telephone number. It wasn't necessary for him to know that you didn't have one."

"Was it that important for him not to know sir?"

"Probably not in the greater scheme of things but as you grow up, you will come to realise that there are times when what you choose not to say is as important as what you do say. In the army we used to call it 'on a need to know' basis.

There was no 'need to know' so why tell him?

I'm not going to suggest that you tell an untruth when asked a straight forward question, that would be unforgivable but there's no need to volunteer information just for its own sake.

Let me give you an example.

You told my daughter the truth about you and Justin. Very commendable but she did ask you a specific question whereas Gerald did not.

You didn't volunteer to tell him and why should you? He didn't ask you directly? You answered his questions with candour and honesty. Do you see what I'm trying to tell you Alex?"

"I think so Sir. Stick to the facts only sufficient to answer the question and unless there's a good reason for not doing so, leave it at that."

"A perfect answer!

Are you thirsty?"

"I am a bit but I can wait until we get back."

"Well I can't and I know a really nice tavern. The Landlord is a really affable chap and I do fancy a beer or two! What say you Alex?"

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