"Hello Buoys!"

by It's Only Me from Across the Sea

Tom and Jerry and The Awful Result

One of the major problems Tom and I have with being teenagers is that it's almost impossible to control our destiny. If someone had told me at the age of three when I went to pre-school that I was at the start of a life sentence that ended with retiring from work when I was 67 or 68, unless some government extended it, I'd not have believed them. But there I was, rising 17, and not even a quarter of the way into the time I had left to serve, and wondering what on earth I was going to do.

How was I going to get through it? And how were we going to keep what we'd just discovered we had together?

Tommy and I had sat down a couple of times and talked about the unfairness of life. And we've got great parents. How awful it must be with even just ordinary ones. Our first concern was about space to be a couple. Ok, what kid gets that space? Rhetorical question.

Even so, we felt we deserved the space, despite being totally dependent on our parents. Look, we weren't stupid. We didn't want to come through the door yelling 'Hi guys, we're just off to the room for some riotous sex', but we felt we ought to be able to make love discretely in our homes.

No-one had ever told us not to. It's just, well, the blushing when coming downstairs.

Is sex embarrassing?

Tough one. I nearly said 'hard one'.

I don't think it is, nor does Tommy, but we don't think it's a spectator sport, either. We both remembered David telling us about the chalet rocking. Not with us it didn't!

Sorry, I don't mean to moan. I've had a great summer. I've found the best boy in the world and he's my boyfriend. My sailing's improved hugely thanks in part to Andy's coaching, I've raced a 30 foot yacht across the Irish Sea, and everything's right.

Except I got my GCSE results a couple of Thursdays ago.

Awful.

Worse than awful.

More like 'awfuk', which isn't just a typo.

Though, as mum said, not as bad as they might be.

What they say, these results, is that I don't get to move to the sixth form in my school to take A levels , and I may need to think very carefully about what I do for a living. There's good news. I scraped a decent pass in Maths. English was fine, so was French. I did just about ok in Biology, but that's only part of the science. The Chemistry let me down. Physics was weak.

That Thursday, Results Day, was depressing.

I called Tom, of course I did. He'd done better. Not brilliant, but better.

But where was this going to leave us? School had left me, or I'd left it because I hadn't done well enough. I knew I was going to the collegei locally to resit the near misses. I'd been to enrol already. But where then? What then?

Tom? He could stay at school. His wasn't the same school as mine is, was. But it had all come home to me rather suddenly that I both was and wasn't in full control of my life. And, just as I was about to bleat about it, I remembered my parents for the last two years trying to make me realise that I was 100% responsible for my future.

Well, my future then was based on going sailing on Sundays, and sometimes borrowing one of the club GP14s and sailing with Tom, who was good fun and, though I didn't realise it until much later, increasingly in love with me.

He came round that Thursday afternoon, Results Day, and we had a pity party.


Saturday, we were at the club for a training and practice day. Andy was telling us about the Dinghy Instructor course that was happening over half term in a week or seven. "I'm doing it," he told us.

"I'd alwasy thought you were one already," Tom said.

"Not yet. I can do race coaching to an extent without being one, but I want the qualification. The coaching I do is really a simple extension of sailing skills."

"What else do you get out of the qualification?" Tom asked him.

"Not sure that I want one, but I could get a career out of it. I want to be a web and graphic designer who sails and teaches rather than a sailing instructor who does a few web sites for his mates."

My light switched on. "There are jobs in this?" I'd thought sailing was much more about fun. Naïve, much?

"There's a living to be made in it for those who want it."

"I'm up for that. How do I sign up for the course?"


Instead of the regular coaching session Andy told us what we had to do to pass the pre-assessment, and he took us through a lot of it on the water.ii I could do most of it straight out of the box. Recovering a dummy Man Overboard took a bit of puzzling out. Stopping the boat alongside the dummy in the water was hard. Except just before the start of a race we tried to go as fast as we could, not to stop the boat! Once Tom and I figured it out with a lot of help from Andy we were fine.

"We'll see what the Powerboat guys can sort out for your Powerboat Level 2, Jerry. We might be able to do it with a morning's teaching and an afternoon of direct assessment."

"I've not driven a RIB before."

"There's not a huge amount to it," Tom told me. "It's stopping and slowing down that's the hard part; any fool can go fast. That and always wearing the kill cord.iii No exceptions."


"Your reaction to the chance of becoming an instructor was interesting, Jerry." Tom and I were cycling to my home after the training session. We were heading for that hill on the heath again.

"I saw my way ahead," I told him. "You know my GCSEs sucked bigly."

"Way suckier than mine, which were pretty awful too!"

"At least you passed all yours." We'd turned onto the heath. "I saw a future of burger flipping ahead of me."

"I like burgers, though."

"I like eating burgers. What I don't like is the idea of coming home to you smelling of them." I kissed his nose.

"You know, I think that may be the nicest thing you've ever said to me. I love you so much, Jerry. I'm so glad you kissed me that day!"

"What did I say?" I was puzzled.

"You said 'coming home to you'. It made me melt."

"I meant it, though it wasn't conscious. I mean it. I love the whole idea of coming home and to you."

"You're wearing your Freudian Slip, and a little bit's showing below the hem of your dress!"

"Bad metaphor! My slip is never too long!"

"Then your dress is far too short!" We were comfortable with each other to laugh and joke and be serious at the same time.

"I do, you know. I love the idea of coming home to you. Or of you coming home to me. In our home, one day. We may only be 16..."

"Almost 17!"

"Ok, almost 17. I'm hoping we have a life together Tommy. For ever. And I can see the start of it. I love sailing. I love boats. I'm good with boats and sailing. And I can see how to start to earn a living doing something I love."

"Wow!"

"What I don't know yet is how to see the complete picture."

"Well, I'm going to learn to instruct, too."

"We'll take it from there."

"Wait! Did you say 'for ever'? Yes you did! Are you asking me to marry you?"

"Yes!" I was holding his paw. "I want to spend my entire life with you, grow old together. I know myself well enough to know you're the only boy for me, and that there aren't any girls in the picture."

"Wow! You got all of that. Yes, yes, yes please."

"Do we tell our folks?"

"I think we do. Let's get them together. D'you think tonight's too soon?" I was already calling home. "Mum, can you give Tom's 'rents a call and invite them over this evening?

… Maybe…

… Supper? That would be great!

… On the heath enjoying the view.

… In about half an hour." I clicked the red icon.

"I take it mine are coming to yours?"

"Supper is indicated. Catch as Catch Can she said."

"Burgers, then!"

"That's the way to my heart! Food!"

"I want a mind photograph of this spot!" He took out his phone. "Also, one for the phone! This is where the boy of my dreams asked me to spend my life with him!"

"And where you said yes!!"

"And where I said yes!"

"We've a bit of snuggling time left before we have to get home."


Tom was sleeping over that night. The spare room pretence and corridor creeping were history. It had happened a few weeks before our family gathering.

"Was that weird or what, Jerry?"

We were in our favourite position, propped up on the pillows on my bed after the evening's announcement and Tom's parents had gone home. "Yup. I think the only ones who were surprised are sitting on this bed!"

"Also, everyone supports your plan to make a career out of sailing." he smiled. "Me, too."

"We need to work out what you can do?"

"Not tonight, though." He kissed me. "I've got several better ideas." And he started to put them into practice.

Rather well, too!

It was very difficult not to squeal.

He found that, too.

We'd worked out that it was essential to pad behind the headboard between it and the wall to stop it from banging.

When I say 'we' I mean Tom's mum!

I'd blushed cutely that day, and rather effectively.


On the pre-assessment day we were at another centre. This one was on the coast. Nowhere in the UK is more than 75 miles from the coast. I'd half hoped we'd go to Wales and see Hazel and Tony, but we'd gone the other way and were on the East coast.

Passing wasn't a foregone conclusion. Pete, the RYA Coach/Assessor, put us through our paces. I was damned glad of my wetsuit for the capsize and righting segment. Tom and I usually manage to get the boat back up without getting more than our feet wet, but this was not what the assessment required.

Full immersion was what was required.

Still, the water would be colder on the course itself, at half term.

Tom and I talked to Pete about working as an instructor.

"It's a decent way of making a living," he said. "You'll never be rich, but you'll have a blast." He was very encouraging. Gave us some hints for the RYA's Safe and Funiv safeguarding course, too. "The right answer is always to tell someone," he said. "More than that, use good sense."

I wasn't looking forward to that part. It wasn't the topic, it was that it was an online course with study and a multiple choice exam. It was the exam I wasn't looking forward to with my recent results experience. I told Pete about that and he told me how much he hated exams, too. "It was fine once I got my head round it" he said. "I failed the first go. I was too busy thinking that I was the person to be told about any problems, so I overthought it. They're simple questions. Give simple answers."

"Tom's usually the one who overthinks," I told him. "Actually, I'm still a bit worried. I can see sorting out kids in tents or bunk rooms so that boys and girls are separate. That's a given."

"That, for sure," he said.

"Well, I'm... Oh damn." I was shy suddenly. "We're... No this isn't working." I breathed out. "Gay. There! I've said it."

"And you want to know how to sort out what to do with LGBT kids with sleeping arrangements?"

"Exactly."

"Easier than you think. First, we don't go asking every kid their orientation. That would be horrible, unforgivable. So we treat boys as boys and girls as girls, which they are."

"Ok, what, though, if I happen to know that Fred is gay, or that another boy says something about not wanting to share with Fred and gives that as a reason?"

"Then you protect yourself and Fred by speaking to your welfare officer. It becomes their problem."

"That's so simple. A load off my mind. Thanks."

"You and Tom make a lovely couple."

"Thanks, how..."

"Nothing to do with finishing each other's sentences, or the rapport you have outside the boat, or the looks you give each other!"

"Well, now you put it that way..."


All six of us passed. There where three who were new to us. One looked to be in his sixties. He did not enjoy capsize drill!

Andy was driving us home. "I'm knackersausted," he said. Mind if we stop for a cuppa and a bite to eat?"

Who could possibly mind?

While waiting for a place to stop to come past Andy raised the PB2 qualification. I could do an intensive day with him, even though he wasn't a Powerboat Instructor, if we paid the club for the fuel, and then he'd been told he could arrange for me to be directly assessed the next weekend. All rather compressed, but doable.

First Aid we could handle at the next club session. It would delay the award of the certificate, actually for all three of us, but that was unimportant.

We turned into a roadside grill, dug deep for cash for a kitty. Tom and I just had enough to sub Andy. We thought it only fair since he was driving. I looked behind the counter. The chef and others were just like us. "This is why I'm going to qualify."

Tom and Andy both nodded.

"I've been thinking about the future," Tom said, in the middle of a less than appetising burger, "Dad and I have been talking. Nothing certain yet, and I'm damn well going to qualify, too, but I might not necessarily make my final career in sailing tuition."

"How..."

"And yes, it will be with you. There's quite a bit that has to go right first. You'll be the second to know."

"Evil brat!"


There's more to driving a RIB that I'd expected. We couldn't do the coastal part, I'd need an endorsement for that later.

Andy taught me really well. He said he was going to qualify as a Powerboat Instructor as soon as a course came his way. I could see why. He was patient with my many overenthusiastic cock-ups. "Everyone," he said, "Starts out going too fast. We've only got three gears..."

"There's just ahead and astern?"

"My favourite's neutral," he said. "Which makes three." And he explained how important it was to be able to slow down without relying on the gearbox. "But you can't steer an outboard powered boat very well without the propellor spinning, so it's all about practice, and only using tiny bursts of power to keep the speed low followed by a long time in neutral for close quarters manoeuvres."

I learned a lot from Andy, including keeping one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle at all times. I realised how much I thought I knew that I really didn't.

We talked a bit about not being classically heterosexual, too. I wasn't certain it was polite conversation. Do heterosexual people talk about being heterosexual?

"I'm not with Jimmy any more," he said. "It lasted longer than my last boyfriend, a full three weeks longer!"

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. She was a bitch at the end. Something about wanting to spread her wings and I was stifling the inner her."

"May I ask you something kind of personal? I don't want you to think I'm rude..."

"Ask away, cutie." He was being very camp.

"It's just that I don't understand. Why do you say 'she'? No, hang on, I've got more to ask than that." I paused to collect my thoughts. "Andy, I've only known you a couple of years, but I've seen you as camp as a row of tents in, well, social situations, and just an ordinary bloke like today when you've been teaching me."

He started to speak.

"No, hang on. I like you, Andy. You're really kind, and you know a lot, and you've taught me a lot. And you didn't mind my calling you late that night when... Never mind that! What I mean is, the camp queen bit... What's it for?"

"That's a bit of a facer." Not camp for the moment. "I had no role models. I knew I was different before I knew what sex was. I think I was five or so. I saw camp men on TV and I liked the way they spoke, acted. So I sort of slid into it."

"Makes sense."

"When I need to be serious, get a point across, teach someone a skill, then I need to be the person they want to teach them. Serious Andy arrives. It's not conscious. He just turns up."

"Ok. And the 'she' thing?"

"Goes with the camp part."

"Ok, very personal question?"

"I may not answer it."

"That's fine. Ok, here goes. Is being camp like taking some sort of female role in, well, sex?"

"Do you mean I'm camp so I must take it up the arse?" He was smiling, though serious.

"No... Actually, yes. Sorry, is that rude of me?"

"Before I tell you, let me ask you. You're all boy, man almost, masculine through and through. I know you asked me about anal sex. We didn't specify who was doing what and with which and to whom. I just told you the way it worked."

"I know. So... Do I take it up the bum?"

"Yup. Now, I don't need you to answer that, but I'm going to answer you. I like anal sometimes but I want Mr Right before I really commit. I like being a top as much as a bottom, often more. It depends who the other one is."

"Top? Ah, Got it! And, just to play fair, I adore being underneath, but so does Tom. So we share. Not that we get the chance to do it often. I can be less than silent!" I was quiet for a bit. "Andy?"

"Mmmm?"

"I like camp Andy just fine..."

"But you prefer serious Andy?"

"I do." And I gave him a peck on the cheek, just because I wanted to. "You make a cracking gay uncle, Andy!"

"I'll give you 'uncle'! I'm only three years older than you!"

Something clicked that day. Andy'd turned into a Friend with a capital F.


A session by session description of the course would get very tedious. I can only remember the highlights anyway. It was fifty hours over five days after all. Exhausting. I'd aced the PB2 direct assessment beforehand thanks to Andy. If he ever stops being so flighty he'll make a wonderful partner for a lucky man. If that's what he wants. He feels sad to me, sometimes. He deserves happy.

I found giving shore based sessions scary. I felt out of my depth teaching about tides, for example, but we have a book that the students will have as part of the course, and use as support. The trick, we were told, was to keep it totally simple. I was less nervous about that by the end. I was actually able to explain synoptic chartsv from the booklet and then show them today's and help them understand the basics.

The water based sessions we all made too complicated to start with. I learned fast from that. I was given the topic of sailing without a rudder to teach from the coach boat. I did a shedload of research the evening beforehand, and then realised that I knew how anyway. It was all about balance to steer the boat using the shape of the hull, and sail set to steer towards or away from the wind. So I did it as a recap of previous sessions on those and extended it. I wished I was in the boat trying it myself. The important thing is that the two boats had fun.

We also majored on safety. We were told at the start of the course that one key reason we might not pass was a weird attitude to safety.

The outcome was a clear pass for Andy, Tom, and me, though we each had to do our First Aid before we got the certificate. One of the others had an action plan before she could be passed. Not surprised. She should never have passed the pre-assessment. She just couldn't sail reliably. She had no wind awareness, coupled with no idea about much that was going on. One of the others upset her by telling her rather too loudly, "Look, you're trying to become an instructor. So just sail the boat! Ideally do it now!" We all heard!

Maybe he should have been teaching her instead, but I saw his point. She was meant to be ready to teach students and she didn't know which way was up or if it was Thursday! I'd like to sail with her next in the year 2093, should we both be spared!


This winter season was different from last year's. I was up to my arse in revising and studying. I'd been told that college and school were like chalk and cheese. Here, no-one cared whether I did the work or not, except they were mildly offended with those who didn't.

'Cared' is probably the wrong word. They took us aside often and checked how our work plans were going, and what we needed, but they never drove us. They marked tasks, but for us, not for some silly league table. They cared that we succeeded, but they let us succeed or fail on our own merits. For the first time in my academic life I was being treated like an adult.

I hoped it worked!

The other difference is that I had Tom in my life, deeply in my life. Last year I just had school and autumn and winter.

I realised I only knew 'Sailing Tom' from the common ground we shared with our sport. Tom and I had never dated. That had to change.

Tommy Time was rationed while I was studying. I hated it, so did he, but we knew a lot depended on it. These exams had to go well.


"When these exams are out of the way," I asked him on the phone, "Which will be in two more weeks, I want to go on a date with you, a proper date. Tom, Will you go out with me?"

"We haven't, have we! Yes. Yes please. Yes I would. I'd like to go on a date with you very much." He kissed me gently, tenderly.

"That's settled, then. What would you like to do, where would you like to go?"

"You asked me out, good Sir! The choice is yours!"

I had something in mind. I could just afford it. "Plan for a train ride, an early start and late coming home. Dress for out of doors. We're going to do something silly."

"If we're eloping to Gretna Green, it's been done!"

"Nah, mum wants me in a sparkly white dress for our wedding!"

"Interesting thought. Will you wear the sequinned jock under it?"

"And a diamanté encrusted garter." I giggled. "I wonder what 'diamanté' is!"

"Ok, smartarse, what're we doing?"

"Going on a date by train!"

"That's all I get?"

"You get me, on Saturday, and then you get me again on our date!"

"I'm so..."

"Me too..."

"Do yours hurt?"

"They miss you, too. But Tommy?"

"Mmmm?"

"It's you that I miss. I miss being with you. I know we're investing the time in these exams, and I know it's worth it, coz I actually understand the work now, but I feel a bit lost without you in my, well, with me. I don't need to touch you, I just need to be with you." I heard a sniffle through the phone. "You ok?"

"Yes." He was sniffing. "That's so... soppy. And so lovely. I'm so glad you kissed me and we capsized that day."

Which made me sniffle, too. We tried to hang up, and failed for a full five minutes. Thank god for inclusive minutes on a mobile contract!


We were up at the crack of sparrow's fart. I was sleeping at Tommy's home and David had promised, rather rashly, to take us to the main line station. "Call me when you get there, please, Tom."

"Ok, dad, just to say thanks for the lift. We'll be fine."


There has to be a joke about Virgin Rail that no-one's thought of before, but we couldn't find it.

We were in Birmingham by 10, only the usual several minutes late. "I have two things planned for us, no, three" I said. One is the big wheel, one is ice skating, both of which I've booked already, and one is the Christmas Market and street food! Or we could get street food in the German Market!"

"I have an extra thing, please?"

"I hadn't planned on visiting Father Christmas, but yes, we can!"

"Brat! And don't do the 'I'm your brat' joke! I never told you, but I'm a canal nut. Since we're in Brum I'd like to see Gas Street Basin, and have a walk down a part of the Farmers Bridge flight of locks."

"Ok, what order?"

"Canals need daytime. It's moving towards 10:30 now. Let's go there first. Check the other places on your map app."

"I've booked the big wheel last, and after it gets dark. It sounds sort of romantic."

"Done! So Canals, Food, probably more food, then ice skating, and finish with big wheel, maybe more food, and the train home."

"What got you interested in canals?" We were walking from New Street Station following the prompts from his phone.

"It's the architecture, and the pioneering spirit of just digging a great ditch to transport goods. I can't explain it using logic. The whole thing, the water, the engineering, the boats, they just fascinate me. I hope a bit'll rub off on you."

"There's a canal near us, isn't there?"

"More than one. I'd like to take you for a bike ride along the towpath in the Spring. Too bloody cold in Winter." And he told me how David had a book on the Birmingham canals and their history,vi and how it was dull as dull could be, but that he couldn't put it down. "And that's why I'd like to see Gas Street Basin," he said. "I know it's been tarted up, but I want to imagine it dirty and busy."

It hadn't taken us long to get there.vii Tom was pointing things out to me. I admit to being impressed that all this was a hidden world in the city. I liked the bridges to take the horses that used to pull the boats across the canal without unhitching the tow rope. It grew on me.

I was not impressed when we went further than civilisation down the Farmers Bridge flight. I got an uneasy feeling from the place. Tom was so happy to see it all that his lovely smile and total enthusiasm drove the unease from me. I found the locks fascinating, especially when we watched a boat making its ponderous ascent of the flight.

I also liked holding his hand, though neither of us were unguarded enough to do it a huge lot in a city strange to us, especially in a weird industrial canal side area. Our town we knew, kind of. Birmingham made us feel a bit like country boys!

"Ok, a bike ride in the Spring. I like it when you show me new things, even if some of that place made me feel uncomfy," I said, squeezing his hand as we left. "Point your phone at the next place?"


The Craft Market in Centenary Square didn't impress either of us. The ice rink looked fun, though. That was definitely on our list for after lunch, especially since I'd already pre-booked the session. We grabbed some Hog Roast each, that looked like the best stall, found it was actually lunch time, and wandered towards the German Market in Victoria Square.

Here I found that, though my stomach's Hog Roast place was full, I was up for Currywurst and chips. That place was empty! Tom braved Sauerkraut and Bratwurst. I tried some of his Sauerkraut. I wondered what the British weirdness over Sauerkraut was about, It was excellent! He did not like the Currywurst sauce!


Back at the ice rink we both discovered that ice is... slippery. Ice is also hard!

I had this mad image of our taking to the ice and gliding gracefully round, barely a leg movement, serenely hand in hand. And we would have, given about five years to practice and ideally starting when we were five! It was a bit like the first time we, I, well, you know. It was a bumpy ride but hilarious!

"We can both balance a boat. Why can neither of us skate?" Tom was looking up at me from his back on the ice, laughing as he spoke.

"Dunno. Are you having fun?"

"Loads! If this is a date we must do more of it!"

"D'you get the feeling we can be a bit serious?"

"Yeah. That has to stop. I like not being a grown up."

"I like anything as long as I'm with you. With the possible exception of the slightly creepy part of that canal, that is!"

"Now you mention it, that area was less than lovely, wasn't it? Still glad I saw it, though, and with you. Thank you."

"Our Big Wheel booking's in about an hour. What do you fancy until then?"

"You!"

"I take that as a given! So, ice cream, crêpes, something savoury?"

"That sounds good. Yes, all of the above!"


This was the part I was looking forward to the most. I truly don't know why. It just seemed romantic to go on the wheel with my boy in the dark, with the lights below us. Brum had to serve. The London Eye was bigger, but too far from home. We were really lucky, we got a swing-thing to ourselves.

"Oh, Jerry, I'm having such a wonderful time. I love our first date! It's been a proper boys' date, too! Thank you for organising all of it." And, there in Birmingham, on the Big Wheel, my Tommy kissed me. And I kissed him back.

It was perfect.


David met us at the station, late, both tired out and happy. No words were said in the car.

We both crawled into his bed, both meaning to... I'm sure we were both meaning to... When two mugs of tea and his mum arrived with daylight before we'd... Been asleep!

It wasn't the first time she'd found us entwined.

It wasn't the first time she'd smiled quietly and ignored it.


I'd just had enough money left to buy him a cute wooden tree decoration in the German Market – a first date present. It was going to be wrapped and put under his tree. I'd managed to buy it when he was looking at another stall.

Then the 'oh look, there's a squirrel' part of me took over and gave it to him then and there, while we were still in bed. "I wanted to get you the whole world to remember our first date."

"It's lovely. It is the whole world, if you look."

I hadn't noticed. Must have been my subconscious. "So it is! I never noticed. I just thought it was wonderfully silly."

"It's not silly at all. And it is wonderful. Thank you. This is going in my 'things I will always keep' box, after it's been on the tree. One day it'll hang on our own tree in our home."

"I'm buying you a tree decoration every year. It's something my gran started, mum's mum. She bought me a decoration every year until she died, and mum and dad took over."

"That's adorable. Thank you, Jerry. But mainly thank you for kissing me that day. Being with you, loving you and not knowing, but hoping was, well, actually awful now I look back. Being loved by you is... I can't find the words."

"Those are enough for me. Something struck me, you know. It's lucky we both passed the Dinghy Instructor course."

"I'm glad we both did to, but why lucky?"

"The safeguarding things. We'd not be able to be like this if one had passed and the other hadn't. Instructors can't be in bed with students under the age of 18!"

"But we're both under 18?"

"The way I saw it in the course that doesn't count."

"We're not instructors, yet, though. That First Aid course has to happen first. That's January, I think."

"Ah, January. GCSE re-sit results. Second Thursday I think."

"It's all done, now. Can't change the answers."

"A couple more re-sits in January, too. Results in March."


We each had different family things to do at Christmas. He was deep in Lincolnshire, with his grandparents, I was in Ipplepen, deep in South Devon, with dad's brother. We called each other daily, texted a lot, missed each other, but, looking back, it did us no harm at all to breathe other air for a couple of weeks.

New Year we saw in while still apart.

He got snow. I got rain. We traded pictures.

I found South Devon College in Newton Abbot, and went in to see what they had to offer while Mum was doing the charity shops. Their courses are different from my college's. I don't know what a Foundation Degree is, but they do one in Yacht Operations. I called Tom and told him about it.


What with one thing and several others, almost all of which are pretty run of the mill, this is how Tom and his family and I all ended up here in North Wales. I think I must lead a charmed life, or Tommy does.

He thought the world had ended when David was made redundant from his job in the following June. So did David for a while, but they, Tom's family, and we, me and mine, had rented next door chalets and paid for the holiday alreadyhad , and David decided to look for work after the holiday.

He got chatting to Bob, of Bob's Boats. They were chatitng for a couple of solid days.

Then he chatted to Tony in the sailing club which was on winter opening hours.

Then he chatted to Bob more.

One evening Tom and I came back in to find an accountant there and a load of folders. And the next day David brought Bob back with a bottle of fizzy white! He called us all together, Tony and his family too. "I have an announcement to make," he said. "I'm in the boat business. Bob's retiring and he's selling me Bob's Boats."

He carried on, after a pause for it to sink in, "I was so fed up with corporate life. I need a change. I've always wanted my own business, just never had the brains to work out what to start one in, but I know how to run a business well. My redundancy money's the down payment. Bob had half mentioned he might be retiring when we were here last year, and it seems he meant it!"

He raised is glass "A toast! To Bob's happy retirement, and to his giving me a load of good advice when I need it, too!"

"What does this mean for seeing each other?" I was squeezing Tom's hand rather harder than I realised, pleased for David, worried for us.

"I've been working on that," Tom said. "That set of classes you showed me at the College down Devon way, they got me thinking. I want to work for dad, and he wants me to as well, but I need a trade. I'm going to college to learn boat building, and that's not all." He called Tony over. "Tell him Tony, please."

"If you want it, Jerry, Hazel and I have a job for you, here. You know we were interested in buying the sailing school?" I knew. I said so. "Well, that's going through this month. We need another dinghy instructor, and we can't think of anyone we'd like to take on more than you. Plus we'll get you qualified alongside Hazel for the power side and the cruising schemes, sail and power. we're not far from Plas Menai, and we've agreed a reciprocal training arrangement with them in principle at least. We're already a destination on their cruising courses."

Tom had said I'd be the second to know.


That was then. Now, five years later, Tom's fully qualified as a boatbuilder, specialising in top grade GRP repair, and learning the business management side. I've just got my RYA Cruising Instructor qualification. I've got to get some more hours under my belt before I can get further on in the scheme. Tommy keeps his hand in by teaching a course for us here and there, when he has time, and when Tony needs extra help. It's been very busy indeed. Hectic, even.

Tom and I live at Bob's Boats. There's an old set of offices up in the rafters we got permission to convert into a flat. We'd camped out in them from the first day we moved there. It's bloody cold up there in Winter sometimes, but the boatshed heating heats us as well, so we just have to pay extra for a fan heater when we need it.

Tony's still got Rhubodach and we compete hard in the races. We also take her to classic regattas. She's not suitable as a teaching boat at the moment, it'd cost a lot to get her certified. She's a playing boat. He's thinking of it, mind you!

My parents stayed put. We see them once a month or so during the winter, less in the Summer except when they come up for a holiday.

And Tom and I were both accepted as volunteer Lifeboat crew. As they say on their website:

"Imagine for a moment that you're part of the crew on a lifeboat. It's 2.30am on a freezing January morning and the pager's just woken you from a deep sleep in a snug warm bed. You then head out to sea in complete darkness and 10m waves rise and fall around you, ready to swamp you at any moment. Strong gale force winds throw the lifeboat around like a toy. A fishing trawler is in difficulties 23 miles out to sea.

Still want to volunteer? Read on…"

We still wanted to, and we did.

So, separately, did Iolo and Hazel

Separately from each other, I mean. I'd thought they might become permanent, an item, but no. That was just dating.

We've a great mix of great expertise and great enthusiasm. Oddly it isn't always age that has the expertise, nor the youth that has the enthusiasm. I've ambitions to be appointed Coxswain one day. Expertise I've got. The training's superb. I love handling the Mersea Class All Weather Lifeboat as well as the inshore D Class.viiI I need to add experience to it, too. I reckon Hazel's in the hunt, too.

We live next door to the lifeboat station. Even then we don't always get there first, which is a surprise. It's not first come first served to go out on the shout, though. The Coxswain chooses the team for the job in prospect. I like the crew, I'd trust my life with any of them. That's what it's about when you help others in distress. Each of us has got everyone else's backs.

Is it dangerous?

Probably.

But we're very well trained, and the boats are first rate. We get to go out in some of the nicest and some of the foulest weather and we help folk who've bitten off a bit more than they can chew. Unless there's a fatality it's bloody good fun.

What did they think about having a couple of gay blokes in the crew? Turns out we weren't the first by a long way, nor the first gay couple, neither. They don't even tease us, well not much. We'd expected they might, but no.

Not a bad result from winning my first ever race, was it?

Footnotes

i This college is a UK college, not the US word for many universities. It's a place not restricted to the academic less endowed. Many high fliers choose to take their A levels there too. A school does not suit everyone. Like Jerry, one can repair one's poor showing in the lower exams. College pins more on self reliance than school does The student is in charge of their own success. At school it always seems as if the teacher is. Colleges also offer courses in a wider set of disciplines than do schools. Jerry may take advantage of that later. So might Tom. Who can say at this stage?

ii There's a whole portfolio of stuff, or maybe a panoply, leading through the various UK qualifications to let folk teach sailing professionally

iii The Kill Cord will stop the engine as soon as it's dislodged from the ignition circuit. Imagine a boat going in circles in the water towards you under full power if you've been thrown out. Its got a very powerful food processor underneath it. The kill cord stops the food processor. The concept was brought into leisure boating from high speed small racing powerboats, boats which can eject their driver as almost no notice. It started as a simple jack plug that made the ignition circuit when it was inserted and was yanked out and broke the circult when the driver was ejected.

iv Anyone working with children, defined as being people under 18, and with vulnerable adults as a sports instructor is considered to need to be especially aware of safeguarding issues. The RYA's Safe and Fun course is an excellent minimum standard of safeguarding.

v Surface Pressure Chart is another name, This is today's

vi Sometimes the book that appears dull can spark a lifetime's interest. Birmingham Canal Navigations: 1786-1846 v. 1 is one such book.

vii This is the route Tom and Jerry followed, though they diverted North West and then turned North East at the junction along the canals for a short way before retracing their steps on the towpath and leaving them at the same place the joined them

viii The Mersea Class boat is a carriage launched deep sea rescue vessel for beach launching.


The D Class is the workhorse of beach and shallow water rescues. Each requires different skills, each complements the other.

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