Loneliness

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 22

Oh my head!

The following morning was when I discovered that Port didn't like me very much. My head was as if it were held in a vice and my tummy was churning nastily!

I slipped out of bed and headed for the toilet and soon found out the only way I was going to feel better was to be very sick which I was, and thankful for it.

The thought went through my head 'I must be my Father's son. He can't handle his drink either.' and with that I went back to bed.

I glanced at my watch. 5.30am. I was happy with that as I really needed to sleep.

The next time I woke was when Jus gave me a shake.

"Come on Alex? It's almost 8.30! Why so sleepy?"

"Try 'cos I was ill in the night, that's why! Never going to drink Port ever again!"

"I feel okay? I had just as much as you?"

"I gotta learn. I cannot handle booze like you can. Remember Monkey Island? I threw up after just a few glasses of Lambrusco! God, how embarrassing is that!

Feels great at the time but later? Forget it! A glass maybe two of a decent red wine but no more than that and then only after a meal!"

"So. How do you fancy a couple of slippy fried eggs and some greasy bacon?"

"Oh yeah! I could use that! You've been cooking then?"

"Look at me Alex? Me? Cook? No I just needed to know that you're okay! Come on, get up and dressed or we'll be late for studies. I'll make you a mug of tea but only if you get your beautiful arse out of that bed pronto!!"


As usual the morning flew by and before we knew it we were chasing towards Balmore Park with the dogs, homemade Lacrosse sticks in hand.

We climbed to the apex of the hill and Jus had me sit the dogs explaining what it was he wanted to prove.

"I'm going to walk as far as I recon you can throw the ball normally and see where abouts it lands. Let the dogs retrieve it and then we'll see what difference the stick makes. Okay?"

He ran off about 70 yards from where I was standing, then waved to me to throw the ball.

I launched it into the air with as much effort as I could muster and Jus had to skip sideways to reach its landing point before Spitz recovered it and came running back, dropping it at my feet, wagging his tail madly.

I picked up the 'Lacrosse stick' and held it aloft. Jus nodded indicating that was what he wanted me to do.

I placed the ball into the makeshift netting and using what I thought was the same technique and power, I launched it skywards.

My God! Higher, faster and way, way further is the understatement of the century! The dogs were aware that I'd thrown something and chased after it but then came to a halt unable to see it until it hit the ground. Jus sprinted up the field but the dogs beat him to it.

Jus ran back to where I was standing.

"Wow! Did you see that? I recon it went a good fifty yards further!"

"Tell you what? This time you throw the ball and I'll see where it lands. Then use the stick and I'll pace out the difference. I think you could be onto a winner with this!"

I walked to where I thought the ball would land with Jus throwing it by hand, marked where I was stood then motioned to him to throw it.

It landed about eight feet further on and I managed to get there before the dogs. I found a twig and pushed it into the ground then walked further up the field to a point where I thought it might land using the stick. I waved to Jus to carry on.

He launched the ball skywards and as it rocketed through the air it was obvious I'd under estimated and so ran on, watching the ball as I went.

The dogs had cottoned on to what was happening and even before it hit the ground they were after it but fortunately I did manage to get there first.

I pushed another twig into the ground and counted the number of paces back to the first. 78 paces.

Next I counted the paces back to where Jus was standing, 72 paces!

"Dear God Jus? It travelled over twice the distance using your idea!"

"You are joking, right?"

"No joke! You threw 72 paces by hand and 150 using the stick! Think what that could mean. Shit! If you could make and market them, you could make a bundle of cash!"

"Oh yeah and who would buy them."

"Just about every dog walker in the world I recon! Let's have a word with my Dad. You never know, he might have a bright idea."

We played with the dogs a while longer then decided to make our way back.

"Can we go back through the wood Alex?"

"Sure we can. Any particular reason?"

"I don't know really. I……I just want to visit the family tree again, you know, before I have to go back to school tomorrow."

I looked at him quizzically.

"Well yes of course, if that's what you want to do?"

We walked through the wood and again we immediately lost sight of the dogs.

Jus giggled.

"Do you recon we'll find them at the tree again like the last time?"

"That's just what I was wondering! Great minds think alike!"

Sure enough, as we got to the tree, four Springer Spaniels were there to greet us.

"That's just too weird for comfort Jus. Why do you think they make a bee line for this place?"

"Search me. Intuition? Sixth sense maybe? They're very intelligent remember."

"Well three of them are but then you have Dizzy who's as thick as pig shit and twice as stupid!"

Jus was looking up into the branches that towered above our heads then looked at me.

"Cuddle me Alex?"

I took him in my arms and that's how we stayed for a full five minutes but then he took a step back, kissed me on the nose, a broad grin on his face.

"Thanks! I feel much better for that! C'mon, let's go see what brilliant ideas you Dad can come up with!" and without waiting for me, took off up the path like a hare in heat.

I shook my head in disbelief.

'A mad dog and now I have a crazy boyfriend!'


Back at the house we gave my Dad and Sir George a demonstration of Jus's invention.

Jus unearthed a manky-looking tennis ball which hadn't been punctured and had me stand up by the house and throw it as hard as I could. It landed almost at the edge of the water. Jus retrieved it and threw it back to me. Now to repeat the performance but this time using the stick.

Again, trying to use the same amount of power I launched the ball skywards. The others were down at the water's edge but this time they swung their heads around in unison as the ball flew over them landing three parts of the way across the river.

Sir George was the first to speak.

"Remarkable! Quite remarkable! This was your idea Justin?"

"Yes Granddad. I had the idea after watching some of the girls at school playing Lacrosse."

My Dad interjected.

"It's a brilliant idea and like so many brilliant ideas, it's so simple and so damned obvious you wonder why no one has thought of it before! Seriously Justin. Don't go showing this to anyone, got it? I'm going to talk to a friend of mine, a guy I graduated with. He's a patent lawyer and we have to get you in before anyone else gets wind of it."

"Do you really think it's that good Tim?"

"Better than good mate! It's a stroke of pure genius! If you don't mind, Alexis and I will pay the University a visit next week and there we can conduct some experiments like comparing the velocity of arm-power versus 'stick-power' and then, when you're back next weekend I will show you how to work out the maths. Sound like a plan?"

"Hey! That would be really cool, thank you!"

"Don't thank me, thank that observant and adaptive young head of yours!"


The remainder of the weekend passed without event. Jus and I invited my Mum and Dad to supper that evening where I made a passable job of cooking a lamb casserole. Sunday morning we had studies for a couple of hours then had lunch up at the house with Sir George and Lady Eleanor then at 3pm my Dad turned to Jus.

"Are you all packed and ready for the off mate?"

"Unfortunately yes Tim!"

"Well in that case we'd better be going then. Don't worry? The week will fly by and think about the news we'll have for you come the weekend! Believe me, it'll all be good!"

Jus said his good-bye's and we were off but this time, rather than staying quiet and introspective, he was pretty animated and once we had my Dad open the car door for us, instead of just walking away, gave me a massive cuddle but fell short of kissing me.

"Sorry Alex! I'm not ready to do that just yet!"

"Don't sweat it! I love you and it's only five days."

"I love you too. Write to me?"

"I promise! Now piss off!!!


On the drive home I asked my Dad about when it might be possible to go to the University.

"As soon as I can arrange it son. Strike while the iron's hot as they say. Mum's going to tutor you tomorrow so I can sort out what needs to be done to file for patent. That is of prime importance and then we can see about the mechanics of the thing."

"Have you ever had anything patented?"

"What? Who me?? You must be joking! I thought about patenting your Mother but then where was the point? No one would buy her and if you go and say anything to her, you are seriously dead or rather, I will be!"


This time I was up at the house when Jus telephoned.

He sounded pretty okay and said the other boys in his dorm were being really nice to him, two of them having noticed our cuddle. Apparently one of them remarked 'how cute I was' which resulted in the poor boy being pelted with pillows and a lot of laughter! Anyway I was pleased Jus was comfortable but there's a big difference between winning over the five other lads in your dorm opposed to the 250 other boys in the school.

Monday morning my Mum tutored me that was until we took a break for a mug of tea and my Dad came rushing in.

"Ah good! Tea! Plan B Alexis! First we have to make a prototype, something fast approaching what we could be thinking of making and by 'we' I mean Justin because it's his invention but only then can we apply for patent."

"How are we going to be able to do that without somebody else finding out Dad?"

"Simple! We get the University to do it! It's all arranged. This afternoon after lunch we will go to Whiteknights Park and see Alan Jones so we can conduct the velocity tests on what we already have and then Professor Standish had agreed to see us to discuss the best way of producing Justin's prototype."

"Who's Professor Standish Dad?"

"Oh he's the head of manufacturing sciences. I don't know him personally but Alan does and I already know what your next question is before you even ask it, that of privacy. Don't worry. They do all manner of research for industry so they're bound by contract not to go saying anything. Happy?"

"Happy enough but I wish Jus could be more involved."

"I know but if you were running a company, you would have to delegate. No way could you shoulder all the responsibilities yourself?"

"Yeah but we aren't working for a company are we? We're two young boys who just messed around with an idea."

"True but a very good idea and unless I'm very much mistaken, Justin will have to form a company if only for the beneficial tax breaks. Alexis? He could make a lot of money from this!"


That afternoon we drove to the University and were met by Dr Alan Jones.

"Tim! Good to see you! I take it this is our bright young invertor?"

"Good to see you too Al and thanks for your time. Actually this is my son Alexis. The ideas lad is his best friend but unfortunately he can't be with us as he's away at school."

"Oh so you're Alexis! I devised your physics curriculum."

"Thank you sir."

"No thanks required. I hope you're enjoying the subject? Oh and please call me Alan."

"I love it! That and mathematics are my best subjects and while I know I'm probably too young to make choices, I think I'd like to be a physicist when I'm older."

"Well you never know. As soon as I took up the subject at school, I was hooked and all I ever wanted to do was what I do now.

Now what are we going to be doing?"

My Dad explained all about Jus's brainwave having watched the Lacrosse game, our tests up on Balmore Hill and the demonstration back at the house.

"And so what we thought we could do is measure the differences in velocity between throwing the ball by hand and using this mini-lacrosse stick."

"Okay. You said you measured the different distances Alexis. What were they?"

"Give or take, 72 yards by hand and 150 yards by stick."

"Quite a big difference then but you wouldn't have been able to factor in changes in wind speed or direction or indeed whether the power used to throw the ball was identical so whilst your tests were a good enough indicator, they weren't exactly scientific but we can rectify that."

He led us through to a gigantic hallway which had to be at least 300 yards long by 50 yards wide and it was here that Alan explained what we would be doing and how it worked.

"Right. What we're going to be doing is to replicate your tests on Balmore Hill but this time there's no wind factor and you won't have to go over-exerting yourself, just a casual throw of the ball will be enough so you are able to maintain the same amount of thrust. The calculations are more or less linear no matter how hard you throw but now I'll explain how it all works.

Set into the walls of this room are hundreds of small cameras all with incredibly high shutter speeds, so high in fact, I am told they're even fast enough to photograph a woman with her mouth shut!"

I thought my Dad was going to have apoplexy but the joke was lost on me!

"Next is the floor. Lots of pressure pads that can sense where your ball lands thus giving us an exact distance.

First I'll need to measure the length of your arm from your shoulder to your clenched fist and again from your shoulder to the netting at the top of the stick. By doing that we have factored in the difference in length and the cameras will pick up on the differences in speed, your hand and the end of your stick.

We will most likely have to do multiple trials until you manage to duplicate exactly the same hand speed otherwise the distances the ball travels becomes meaningless. All clear enough?"

"I think so."

Measurements taken and I stepped up to the line, ball in hand.

"Okay Alexis. Try to maintain so far as possible, the same arc. Perhaps think of bowling a cricket ball consistently.

Okay. In your own time but remember, not too hard!"

Using Alan's idea of bowling a cricket ball, I threw it at what I judged to be a medium pace and as it landed on the floor, I heard the sound of a whistle.

"That sound is just telling us all the bits and bobs have collected data. Now try and do exactly the same using the stick"

Again I bowled the ball but as it landed so we heard a series of three whistles.

"Too fast Alexis. Try again."

The next ball two whistles indicating my throw was slower than my original hand throw but after about six or eight tries, finally we heard that single blast. Job done!

"Excellent! We have a perfect match! Now let us go into the lab and take a look at the results."

We went through to the lab and all around the walls were steel cabinets with glass doors and behind those doors were what appeared to be large reel-to-reel tape recorders.

"What are these Alan?"

"Ah-ha! This is the really clever bit! I'm not allowed to tell you how they do what they do, all very hush-hush you see and anyhow, I'm not sure I fully understand exactly how they work but it's here all the data from our tests has been collected and stored and now if we come over to this desk we will get it to do all our calculations for us."

To my eyes it looked like something out of a science fiction film and I said as much.

"Ah but you see Alexis, this is science fact not science fiction! No doubt about it, it is very advanced technology but unless I'm very much mistaken, by the time you're my age, this machine will be a museum piece and will be seen as something very basic and old fashioned."

I was totally awestruck!

"You mean things will get even more advanced than this?"

"Oh I'm sure they will. I can envisage the day when we will all be carrying portable wireless telephones around in our pockets, able to call the world for the matter of just a few penny's a minute. Computers, for that is what you're looking at in here, will become smaller, more compact and quite possibly so inexpensive that most homes will have them. Oh and I forgot to mention, far, far more powerful than this one in here. In perhaps thirty to forty years time there will be systems out there that will make this thing look like a child's toy. Remember this conversation Alexis and see if I'm not correct in my assumptions."

I never did forget it and even now when I go to use my tablet, make a call or access my emails via my 4G Smartphone I still chuckle!

Alan moved over to the desk and busied himself on a typewriter style keyboard. Suddenly all the 'tape recorders' sprang into life and Alan sat back in his chair.

"It'll take a couple of minutes for it to work out the sums but still, it's faster than doing then by hand and with the added bonus, this baby doesn't make mistakes."

The reels stopped rotating and from under the desk appeared a length of punched tape about four yards long. Alan coiled it up and walked over to a telex machine, fed the tape into the reader head, punched a button and printed off our results.

"There you go! Mathematical proof that your friends invention does indeed cause the ball to travel distances over twice what your arm alone can achieve and all verified by one of the world's most powerful computers."

Alan grinned at me.

"Well it is at the moment anyway!"

We studied the results for a while before Alan suggested he telephone Professor Standish.

"That was good timing. He's just finished his final lecture of the day. Come on. I'll introduce you."


Professor Standish looked too young to be a professor, even to my eyes. I thought he looked to be around the same age as my Dad, late 20's or early 30's.

Alan made the introductions.

"Hello Bob. I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine Dr Tim Greening and this young man is his son Alexis"

"Welcome, welcome! I understand you need some information."

Dad took up the reigns.

"Well yes Professor, we would appreciate some advice."

Starting at the beginning, we detailed Jus's idea, our tests on Balmore Hill and the events of earlier that afternoon.

"May I see this stick your friend made please and also Alan's results?"

He read through the results then picked up the stick, thrashed it around a bit then smiled at me.

"Ingenious! I love it!"

My Dad spoke up.

"That's what we thought but if the boys want to try marketing it, we will have to come up with something better than a piece of willow tied together with string. Whatever it is will have to be durable, lightweight and flexible and that is where we would very much appreciate your advice."

"Quite so. Hmm. Rubber? Too flexible, plastic? Too ridged but maybe a composite of the two maybe? Fibreglass would be another option but some people can have an allergic reaction to it and definitely not good for asthmatics. Come on, let me show you something."

We were taken into a small, very untidy laboratory where upon Professor Standish proceeded to shuffle bits and pieces around until he found what he was looking for.

He gave me a length of an off white bar about three foot in length, an inch in diameter and the first thing I noticed was how light it was.

"Can I ask what it is Professor?"

"You most certainly may Alexis. It doesn't really have a name as such, just a compound code which we call P4R1. It's four parts plastic and one part rubber and as you can tell, it's very light, very durable although not very flexible but…. if we were to alter that ratio to P4R2 maybe 3, it wouldn't make it all floppy but it would introduce quite a degree of spring into it. You don't want it all floppy do you?"

"No sir but if it had some whip to it, that would be good!"

"Okay then! Let's sit down and talk design."


By the end of the afternoon we had done the tests with the stick complete with results, chosen a material for the prototype, designed it and with luck and a fair wind we would have it in our hands by Thursday.

I had plenty to tell Jus in my letter to him tonight!

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