Fog on the Mersey

by Jolyon Lewes

Part 2

I was fifteen on 30 November 1959 but there was no birthday party. My brother Phil bought me some toffees and my grandparents, who never lost faith in me as long as they lived, gave me a nice present. Dad was still fuming after hearing about the public caning I'd had at Thorp Grammar, my school near Liverpool. It wasn't only my cancelled birthday – my hopes were shattered when he said my promised new trousers would not be coming.

"You'll not be getting long trousers for school until you've learnt to behave, you little runt!"

The only other people who remembered my birthday were my two friends, Keith and Austin. They'd given me support on that dreadful day at school and stuck up for me despite all sorts of ridicule they got for their loyalty. Keith and I had been best mates for years. Short, dark haired and painfully thin, he was as bad at sports as I was and we'd become friends partly as we were usually the last two to be picked for a team on games afternoons and partly because we lived quite close and went to Saturday morning kids' matinees at the cinema. But he had long trousers for school.

Dad kept saying he'd get me long trousers but found any excuse to put it off because they were more expensive than the thick flannel ones Phil wore at his secondary modern school. Thorp Grammar insisted on properly tailored grey suits in Terylene and worsted and they weren't cheap. Phil, stouter and taller than me, had long, flannel trousers. In contrast, my grey shorts were embarrassingly short, reaching only halfway down my thighs. People thought he was the elder brother but in fact he was only twelve.

Austin was the only other boy in my year still in shorts. They'd looked extremely short on him at eleven and he'd since grown a lot taller so now they stopped near the top of his thighs – virtually unheard of in 1959 England. Only on the Continent would you have seen boys of fifteen in grey shorts of such thrilling brevity.

Austin was a willowy blond, a little taller than me, with piercing blue eyes and a way of moving that was graceful but not effeminate. He looked like a girl but he didn't act like one. To me he was incredibly attractive and I couldn't help staring at him. In sports kit he looked fantastic but his rugby shorts and PE shorts were much longer than his grey school shorts so it was in the classroom where my prick would get stiff as I observed his beautiful, smooth thighs just a yard or two from my very slightly hairy ones. He knew I liked looking at him and said he didn't mind. Of course we never did any touching or anything, except when we were sitting on adjacent stools in the physics lab and our bare legs would somehow get tangled up and mine wasn't the only prick to stiffen. I had a secret wish to kiss Austin but I couldn't tell him so we were just pals.

The weather in January 1960 was bitterly cold. A raw northerly wind blew up the Mersey for days, making the grey surface very choppy, with lots of white horses. We wore caps, scarves and gloves but for boys in grey shorts, the only protection for your bare legs came from your dark blue gabardine raincoat. Mine reached just below the tops of my long woollen socks but Austin's reached nowhere near his knees so he had several inches of leg bared at all times, and that was before the wind whipped up his raincoat to expose even more of his beautiful thighs to its icy blast. It was after a week of this Arctic weather that he told me he'd be getting long trousers at last and they'd be with him in a week.

I should have been happy for him but selfish old me just worried that I'd now be the only boy in my year still in shorts. Also, I'd no longer have that dreamy view of his delicious legs, something to brighten up the dullest of lessons.

I wasn't the only boy in the class to get aroused by Austin's body. We had two bullies and one of them was always pestering poor Austin. The other bully, Gareth, told me his mate John had a crush on Austin but if I told anyone I'd get thumped. John had an odd way of showing his affection for Austin. He was always slapping his bottom in the showers or pinching his bare thighs in the classroom. On the rugby field, he'd tackle Austin and pull him to the ground for a wrestle – even when he was on the same team. John was much the stronger and Austin gave up trying to fight back. He would have liked to complain to somebody but John told him if he made as much as a squeak it would be all over the school about Austin and me. Gareth and John knew how Austin and I liked to sit together with our naked legs touching. They'd blackmailed me and that was the root cause of my terrible public caning back in November. Now John was blackmailing Austin not to make a fuss whenever he molested him. It wasn't fair.

One morning before Austin got his long trousers, John was sitting next to him in class after a PT lesson, being his usual bothersome self. Sitting the other side of the aisle, I could see John's hand making furtive forays beneath the desktop until it was touching Austin's leg, sometimes as far up as where Austin's tiny shorts finished and sometimes way down by his knees. He must have been giving painful pinches because Austin was wriggling about, trying to move John's hand away. The teacher was Mr Adams and whenever he looked up, John quickly placed both his hands on his books. Meanwhile, Austin continued to wriggle about, scratching inside his shorts.

More than once Mr Adams told him to stop fidgeting but Austin couldn't seem to stop. During a lesson, it was quite usual for Austin's grey shorts to ride further and further up until you could see the start of his bottom. This never failed to get my prick hard and I sometimes wished he'd get long trousers and stop distracting me but mostly I was grateful to the ludicrous little shorts for offering sights I'd think about in bed, often with messy results. I assumed John felt the same.

I hated to see Austin's discomfort but I couldn't help observing and my prick was pushing desperately against my tight little shorts. Austin now had one hand right up inside his shorts, giving the side of his bottom a vigorous scratching. He looked really uncomfortable. Mr Adams was writing something on the blackboard when there was a sudden yelp from Austin. I saw John's hand dart away from Austin's thigh just as Mr Adams span round and glared at Austin.

"Right! That's it! I will not have this constant disturbance to my lesson! What's wrong, boy?"

"Nothing, Sir."

Mr Adams was already halfway to Austin and my heart flew to my mouth. Adams wasn't supposed to cane boys but I had a horrible feeling.....

He grabbed Austin by the scruff of the neck and frogmarched him to the front of the class. "Jacket off!"

Austin had no chance to explain and in a second Adams was ready with his cane. First, he grabbed the back of Austin's waistband and yanked the little grey sorts as high as he could. The only sound in the room, as Austin leaned over the front desk, was my pulse beating frantically away in my temples. We had a rear view of Austin: I could see two long, bare thighs topped by a glimpse of white briefs, then a tiny patch of grey Terylene. My mouth was dry and my prick had gone all floppy as the fear I'd felt at my own caning came swiftly back. Tears came to my eyes as I realised there was nothing I could do to help my poor Austin, the nicest looking boy I'd ever seen. Keith and I exchanged anxious looks.

When caning boys, Adams usually brought his cane down at an angle but this time he stood in a different way and the cane came horizontally at Austin. Rather than striking his clothed bottom, it crashed mostly into the bare, hairless skin at the top of his thighs and the base of his bottom and we could see the way the skin flinched and shook with every impact of the cane. It was shocking and I felt sick. After three strokes Austin was heaving as if with sobs but I couldn't yet hear any sniffing or choking. I wanted so much to gather him in my arms and love him. John, his tormentor, was blatantly massaging his prick through his trousers, his mouth fixed in a sort of grimace of ecstasy.

Adams brought his cane down a fourth time, straight onto a thin red line that had formed precisely at the point where Austin's legs turned sexily outwards to form his bottom. This time Austin gave an almighty "Aaaarrrgh!" and followed it with a rapid intake of breath terminated by a choking sob. Adams had broken him.

John was coming revoltingly to climax in his trousers. He too gave a gasp and his hand stopped moving so quickly. I hated him. Afterwards I wondered how many of my other classmates had been aroused by the show. As for me, I thought about it in bed that night and after I was sure Phil was asleep, treated myself to a good work-up and then a cracking good wank, telling myself I was doing it not out of desire for Austin but pity.

Adams stopped at four and Austin rose shakily to his feet, wiped his face, tugged his shorts down a bit and slowly put on his jacket before staggering back to his desk and perching gingerly on the wooden seat. An angry red mark on the front of his thigh showed where John had pinched him. For the rest of the lesson Austin was rubbing away to try to sooth his blazing skin. That red line, now much enlarged, must have been hurting like hell. At the end of the lesson he shot to the back of the classroom and nipped behind a cupboard.

Gareth came up to me and whispered "The reason he's scratching is because John did something to his pants during PT."

What could he mean? Now I despised John even more. Keith and I went to find Austin, who'd taken off his grey shorts and was pulling off his little white underpants. He shook them and whitish powder fell away to the floor. "I can't wear these !" he hissed. "Bloody itching powder! John did it!"

Austin wore no underpants for the rest of the day, a courageous choice in such bitter weather and in shorts of such astonishing brevity. The pain from his caning gradually subsided but the itching continued unabated until he was at home and sitting in his bath. You can see why I had so much to think about in bed!

The next week Austin appeared in long trousers and was transformed from a little boy into an elegant young man, while I remained a little boy in short shorts and permanently frozen knees. All but four of the boys in the year below me were now in long trousers, so you can imagine how conspicuous I felt. Gareth told me John had lost interest in Austin now that he didn't have bare legs to grope and pinch. I could no longer spend my lessons Austin-leg-watching, at least not in the same way. My attention turned from his legs to his face. Such an expressive face, such long eyelashes, such arresting blue eyes; Austin was getting more beautiful with each passing day. With the bullies watching me, I dared not get too close to Austin, although he still liked me sitting next to him and having our legs touching. But I wanted more than this. Keith had been my confidante for years but he and I were drifting apart – he even had a girlfriend now – so I couldn't expect him to understand what I wanted from Austin.

Three months later Dad relented and my long trousers arrived – just in time for warmer weather. My voice had now properly broken and although only rarely needing to shave my face I felt I was at last looking my age. I still wanted to get to know Austin better. I thought about him in bed, regularly reliving that day of the itching powder caning. I'd often fantasise about going with him to the local cinema and having a little grope in the back row but whenever I suggested doing something on a Saturday he always seemed to be otherwise occupied and he wouldn't tell me what it was. Then one day in late June he took the initiative.

"Alan," he said, "fancy going to the flicks on Saturday?"

Austin didn't mean the local cinema; he meant a big one in Liverpool. He said the film was about rich Americans and was a musical. He thought I'd enjoy it. That I rather doubted but I jumped at the chance for some time alone with him. The film was 'U' Certificate and I said we could try to get in for half price.

"I get half price on the train," I said. "By wearing shorts I reckon I can still look thirteen."

"That's it!" chirped Austin. "We'll both go in shorts and get half price! Let me do the talking though – your voice makes you sound too old."

I hardly slept the night before our assignation. This was partly because I was excited but mainly because Phil was having more tummy trouble. This had started six months earlier and was recurring every few weeks. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with Phil and just told him to be careful what he ate. Phil would get dreadful stomach ache and quite often would be sick as well. I felt really sorry for him but all I could do was let him groan until Mam's aspirins made him feel better again.

I had to devise a way of getting out of the house without Dad seeing. If he saw me choosing to wear my little grey shorts he might make me go to school in them so I asked Phil to create a diversion after breakfast, to allow me to nip upstairs to change in secret. He was dead tired and couldn't be bothered to help me.

"Phil, please help me," I begged. "Just this once, if it's the last thing you ever do for me!"

"Oh, alright, Alan, I'll pretend to have another tummy ache."

After breakfast, on cue, Phil doubled up and started to groan. Dad took him to the bathroom while Mam faffed around as usual. Good old Phil, he was putting on a tremendous show. I owed him a favour. I stole into our bedroom and two minutes later left the house and set off to meet Austin at Cressington Station. I had my stripy sweater over my shirt and had squeezed into my grey shorts. I wondered what Austin would be wearing.

My heart missed a couple of beats when I saw him. He was in those grey shorts! His blue windcheater came well below his waist so you could only see three inches of shorts before your eyes met the magnificent bareness of his long, slender thighs! My prick responded at once and I had to shove both hands into my pockets. At the ticket office Austin asked for two half returns to Liverpool Central. Gone was his tenor voice and out came a childish treble in the broadest Scouse I'd ever heard! He sounded like a little kid from Toxteth!

The train was crowded so we didn't say much in case our normal voices betrayed our age but in our tiny grey shorts and long socks we looked only thirteen. I was glad I'd secretly used Dad's razor the night before to get rid of the few hairs on my upper legs. I had to ask Austin about his voice and I did that once we were in the city centre and walking to the cinema.

"Oh, I'm always practising different voices," he said, in his normal, grown-up voice, patting the wallet in his windcheater and adding quietly "And now we've got enough for dinner!"

We had pie and chips in a café and I was able to study him properly. He was really beautiful! Our bare knees were touching as we sat close together on the bench and the lumps in the front of our shorts grew bigger and bigger. I asked him if his parents had seen him wearing shorts when he left home.

"Yeah, but as it's summer they often make me wear them so they didn't say anything," he said, adding with a grin "You're looking at me like you always used to. Remember physics practicals?" He rammed his thigh hard against mine.

I was in for another surprise at the cinema, when Austin asked for two children's tickets in his childlike voice but with such a refined accent he could have been a posh kid from down south. I suddenly noticed he was wearing a tie; it hadn't been there in the cafe. Then, whipping off his tie, he steered me to the refreshment kiosk and asked for a box of chocolates, sounding exactly like a Liverpool Irish kid. So authentic was he that the woman looked very carefully at the ten bob note he proffered. He was priceless!

There weren't many in the cinema and we found some privacy well away from other people. As soon as the lights dimmed our knees met. The fixed armrest would make it impossible to let our legs get tangled so I had to content myself by looking left and down at Austin's beautiful thighs, bathed in reflected light from the screen.

The first film was a documentary about somewhere in Africa which would have held my attention because I liked geography but soon after it began Austin calmly reached over, took my left hand and placed it on his right thigh. Crikey!

I had the palm of my hand on his smooth, silky skin, gently tickling his knee with my finger nails. I'd never felt anything so wonderfully sexy! Austin put his hand back on mine and pulled it slowly up to the top of his leg, so that my little finger touched the hem of his shorts and my fingertips sloped down between his legs. Resting on Austin's firm, warm flesh, my hand was but an inch from his balls, while his prick strained away at the front of his shorts. I was nervous, so just kept my hand moving tiny amounts as I stroked his inner thigh.

Inevitably, Austin's hand soon ended up on my leg. Although my shorts were longer than his, he had loads of bare thigh to stroke and tickle. It was just the most amazing feeling! Keith and I had had little fumbles and a bit of wrestling but nobody'd ever just caressed me like this. I felt Austin's fingers trying to work under my hem but my shorts were too tight. I took the hint and my little finger slid easily beneath his hem, instantly touching his briefs at the point where they bulged outwards in an effort to contain his swollen prick. Now I was tingling with excitement and breathless with emotion. Austin's hand closed over my crotch, as if to see if I was as worked up as he was. Then the lights went up.

We quickly withdrew our hands. Austin opened the box of chocolates and laid it on his lap. I could see why. Something was sticking out of the right leg of his tiny shorts! His prick wasn't exactly huge but in its present state was far too big for his shorts and had gained its freedom. I wished I had something to put on my lap, if only to hide the huge bulge in the front of my own shorts. We watched the Pearl and Dean adverts feeling somewhat embarrassed, then a couple of trailers for new films.

At last the big film began. It was High Society . Austin had told me I'd enjoy it but I couldn't see the point of all these rich Americans prancing about until I recognised some of the songs. I liked Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Well, Did You Ever? I was getting into the mood and Austin and I were happily munching the chocolates. Then Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby sang True Love . As the song began, I felt a smooth, slim hand slip into mine and hold it firmly. The images on the screen were spellbinding and the music wonderful. I found myself smiling with happiness. I even thought fondly of Phil, who'd put on a really good show that morning to divert attention from me. I loved him but I'd never told him; brothers don't do that. Then I felt something on my face and it was Austin, popping a chocolate into my mouth. I held his other hand even more tightly.

Along with everyone else in the cinema, I finished the film on a high. Austin had thoroughly enjoyed it and so had I. We didn't go straight back to Central Station but walked about the busy streets chatting until we came to a quiet corner with a park bench.

"I get a kick from singing," said Austin, before running through Well, Did You Ever? He was word perfect, as if he'd known it for months, singing each part in a different voice. I sat on the bench and watched him in amazement. Some passersby stopped and smiled. "That's not all," he said, cheerily. "Have you seen Singin' in the Rain ?"

Well, I knew the song but not that it was danced as well: from that moment it became my favourite song ever and you can guess the reason. Austin borrowed an umbrella from an old lady watching and performed the whole Gene Kelly thing there and then, using a handy lamp post and the lady's umbrella as props. It was so magical – in one sense he looked like a little boy, in tiny grey shorts, dancing down the pavement, yet he was 5' 7'' tall, singing in a tenor voice and in an American accent! There were a dozen people watching and we all clapped when Austin finished his routine. He bowed expansively, handed the umbrella back and grabbed me by the arm. "Come on, Alan, or we'll miss the train!"

On the train home, Austin said he'd loved singing and dancing since he was little. He went to tap dancing classes most Saturdays: "I can't tell anyone at school – the way I look they'd all think I was a fairy !" He even attended ballet classes: "If you think these shorts are rude, you should see what I have to wear at ballet class!"Now I knew why he'd been so hard to get hold of at weekends. Now I knew why he moved with such poise, such grace. He was simply beautiful and I now had so much more to admire him for, love him for. There was fire in my heart!

At Cressington, we had to go our separate ways. It was about five o'clock. There was a footbridge over the railway and Austin beckoned; we could have five more minutes together, looking at the trains. I'd just had the happiest day I could remember and I told him so. We stood looking down onto the tracks. I wanted to hold his hand again but people might see. Suddenly he moved to face me and putting his arms round my neck, gave me a whopping great kiss on the lips. It was over in a flash and he scampered off, yelling "Seeya Monday!"

I was in a right state as I walked home. Exhilarated as I tried to remember Singin' in the Rain , tearful as I hummed True Love , thrilled that I'd got such a fantastic friend, flattered that he'd confided in me. I constantly relived the feel of his warm flesh, the touch of his hand, the kiss..... I'd never been so happy!

It was only as I neared home that I wondered how I was going to explain my shorts to Dad. I hoped he'd be out. I was nervous as I reached the back door. Then I found it was locked. Strange. I got the key from under the flowerpot and let myself in. Nobody about. Nothing on the stove. I went to the bedroom to get out of my shorts. They'd served their purpose and had served it very well. Phil's bed sheets were all tangled, Mam and Dad's bed all neat and tidy. No sign of anybody. Then a voice from downstairs.

"'Ello, love."

It was the lady next door. Now in long trousers, I went downstairs.

"You're not to fret, love, but your brother was taken bad and had to go to hospital. Your Mam and Dad are with him."

My chest felt tight, I felt faint, I couldn't breathe.

"You've to come in with us till they know what's happening."

I felt about to collapse but an arm went around my shoulders and I was led next door.

Five minutes earlier I'd been the happiest boy alive; now I was the most distraught. The neighbours told me all they could. Phil had been horribly sick and there was blood. The ambulance came for him and Mam and Dad went with him. That's all.

Please forgive me if I gloss over the details of that awful time. Decades later, it still upsets me. Mam and Dad came home, sat up all night and returned to the hospital next day. I was sent to live for a few weeks with my grandparents. One evening they told me as gently as they could that Phil had died. I didn't know it was possible to cry so hard and for so long. They hugged me and tried to console me but without success. I felt so desolate –and guilty. The last time I'd seen Phil he was pretending to be ill so I could dash to meet Austin in my little shorts, only he wasn't pretending. It was just as I'd pleaded – it was the last thing he ever did for me.

I'd always taken him for granted but now I missed him so very much. I'd never see him again . I was angry my parents wouldn't even let me see him when he was in hospital.

The funeral was on a misty July day, with ships in the river mournfully sounding their hooters, as if in salute to my dead brother. Keith and his family were there, and a few of Phil's friends from school. I was spirited away by my grandparents before I could see the coffin going into the ground. I hardly saw Mam and Dad for weeks. I was sure they blamed me in some way and all I wanted was for them to say they didn't. At school, I found it difficult to talk to Austin, as part of me associated our amazing day out with Phil falling fatally ill, as if we had caused it. There was just nobody I could talk to about it, not even Keith, and I became more and more withdrawn.

Eventually, Mam and Dad brought me back home. It was a silent home. Nobody seemed to speak and the wireless was never on. The bedroom Phil and I had shared was just the same. His bed was kept made up as if expecting him to return. His Airfix aeroplanes still hung from their cotton threads. His latest model was half-finished and when I told Dad I wanted to try to finish building it he snapped at me and told me never to touch it. So I had to sleep in a shrine, a shrine to my poor brother. Sometimes I kept the light on all night, as I was terrified of the shadows. One night I could stand it no longer. After lying there for hours I suddenly panicked. I got up and rushed into Mam and Dad's bedroom. I cried out "Mam – I can't remember his face !"

For the only time I can remember, Dad began to cry. Mam and I were crying already. I climbed in between them and they cuddled me tight. Dad had never cuddled me before. I don't know why but that night changed us all. In the morning Mam turned on the wireless. Dad came and we looked at Phil's models. "Nobody's going to finish that one, son, but if you want, you can choose a finished one and keep it."

I chose Phil's pride and joy, his Spitfire, and took the greatest care of it. He'd made a beautiful job of it. To this day, it sits on my desk. I often pick it up and study it. If it looks a little clean for a fifty-year-old plastic model it is because it gets washed from time to time – by my falling tears.

In September I joined the Fifth Form at Thorp Grammar. My classmates knew about Phil's death and showed their sympathy. Even John and Gareth left me alone, not that I gave them any reason to bully me, because I kept clear of Austin. I felt horribly guilty that I'd been satisfying my lust for Austin while poor Phil was being rushed to hospital, never to return. I still admired Austin, of course. He was letting his blond, wavy hair grow longer now and the way it framed his beautiful face, emphasising his cute little chin and fine cheekbones, made him look like a film star. OK, it was more than admiration, it was still physical lust but I tried to keep the lid on it.

As late summer gave way to autumn and the Mersey became shrouded in mist, I was drawn once more to the great river. I gazed at it from the classroom window, from the top deck of the bus and, on a few Saturdays, from the Mersey Ferries. I'd become so withdrawn it seemed natural to want to spend a solitary day just watching the world go by. Some ships navigated up-river to Ellesmere Port or further on, to Manchester, while others would steam down-river to Liverpool Bay and the rest of the world. Now always in long trousers, I'd take the train to James Street Station, walk to Pier Head and, as always, mumble 'hallo' at the Liver Birds high above my head.

Phil had often talked about joining one of the services or the merchant navy. I missed National Service by a whisker and was very thankful but Phil had actually liked the thought of wearing a uniform and being tough. Even though two years my junior he'd been bigger, stronger and more practical than me. Had been. Beside the Cunard Building at Pier Head is a war memorial. A warrior is thrusting forward, naked but for a cloak over his shoulders and a strategically positioned fig leaf. The expression on the warrior's face reminded me of the way Phil would sometimes look when he was arguing with me: determined and powerful. I'd stand and stare at this statue and think of Phil. I've always hated graveyards and paying homage to my brother at this larger than life statue seemed much better than standing looking miserably at his grave. I could think of Phil not in death but in life; life as a grown man, healthy and fearless.

Since that time, I have never been to Pier Head without visiting what I call my Cunard Man.

The autumn of 1960 darkened into winter and my regular visits to the Docks became important features of my life, giving me a chance to be alone and think. Sometimes I just walked, sometimes I took the overhead railway that in those days ran along the Liverpool side of the river and sometimes, especially when the fog was down, I'd take one of the ferries across the Mersey.

One Saturday in late November I went over to Wallasey and walked right to the mouth of the river at New Brighton. I'd not been that far before and I could see where the ships turned west into the Irish Sea. A big liner I knew I'd seen before was coming from the west, towards Liverpool. I recognised her at once.

"That's the Cilicia , young man, home from Bombay." A man walking his husky dogs had stopped to speak to me. I told him how I loved identifying the ships and finding out where they went. "Nice to see," he said. "I'd better get on. Goodbye, young man."

At four o'clock I was on the Seacombe ferry, heading back towards Pier Head. The Cilicia had just docked in her usual berth and her deck lights shone brightly in the gloom, giving the ship an almost festive look. Leaning on the rail, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Hello, young Alan." It was Mr Curtis, one of the masters at school. "All by yourself again?"

"Yes, Sir. I like looking at the ships."

"Oh, I know, Alan; I've seen you before, remember? What say we have some tea and a bun at Pier Head?"

Mr Curtis was the master who'd sympathised with me after my public caning a year before. We recognised each other as loners. It was almost dark and I was glad of his company, and his offer to buy me my tea.

"You've had an awful year, Alan, with your younger brother dying so tragically. But I hope you're not going to hide away from people. We all need friends at times like these, you know."

I naturally assumed that Mr Curtis was suggesting he and I became friends and I knew that wouldn't be right but he carried on: "Don't turn your classmates away, Alan. That's my advice. Austin, for example – he thinks the world of you."

After months of feeling guilty about Austin, I felt my prick twitching at the sound of his name. Then I wondered if Mr Curtis knew about us and I went all cold. After a little while I'd guessed he thought there was nothing untoward in my friendship with Austin so I relaxed over a mug of tea and a couple of Eccles cakes while Mr Curtis chatted away gently. He had contacts with people in Cunard and told me things about some of the ships I'd never have read about in the papers. On the train to Cressington he was asking me what I wanted to do in life and for the first time in ages I felt positive about my future. There'd been times when all I could think of was stowing away on a ship and when discovered, pleading to work as a deckhand. Now I was keen to get some decent 'O' Levels and make my parents proud of me.

That foggy evening, Mr Curtis didn't know it but he turned my life around. In bed that night, I allowed myself to think about Austin and instead of feelings of guilt, waves of optimism dominated my thoughts and I wondered if I could feel again the ecstasy I'd felt in that cinema. In the still of the night, I translated those thoughts into a seemingly endless series of thrilling orgasms, with Austin's supreme beauty and sexiness acting as catalysts to the exciting mental and physical activity I'd denied myself for too long.

The following Monday I made sure I sat next to Austin in the classroom during a film about atomic bombs and in the darkness my leg once again found his. In no time our hands had joined and there were tents in our trousers. I was so happy; I thought he'd have every reason to reject me. Later I asked him if he wanted to go to Liverpool again, this time for me to show him the ferries and the docks. He said yes!

It would have to be a Saturday and he couldn't manage it until December but knowing how he was occupied on Saturdays I was certain he wasn't playing hard to get. Then Mr Curtis stepped in and provided the perfect solution.

"Alan, do you want to go to a party? You've seen the Britannic ? Well, she's due in from New York on the second of next month and then she's going for scrap. She's the last of the White Star liners, the last representative of Titanic and all the others. White Star's been part of Cunard since 1949 but Britannic has always carried the White Star livery. It'll be a sad day."

"So why is there a party, Sir?"

"Well, the ship will be de-stored in Liverpool and most of the crew paid off. All the paying passengers will have gone. The company's putting on a party in one of the saloons for the crew and their families and I've been invited. It's really just a tea party but there'll be a band and speeches and it could be fun. It's also a very historic moment, the last of the White Star Line, and I know you're interested in that sort of thing. Would you and a friend like to go with me?"

On a cold, foggy Saturday in early December, a week after my sixteenth birthday, Austin and I set off on the train together. We were to meet Mr Curtis at the Cunard Building at two o'clock. No grey shorts this time, but in school uniform and raincoats, looking like fifth formers. I delighted in showing Austin around Pier Head and he sang Bye bye, Blackbird to the Liver birds, which had me giggling. The old magic had returned. We stood looking at the grey old river, taking in the smells of salt water, pitch, diesel oil and dead fish. There were ships in most of the berths and I pointed one out to Austin.

"There's the Britannic ," I said, looking at a black-hulled ship with white superstructure and two oddly squat, buff-coloured funnels.

Austin gazed at it and then turned his piercing blue eyes to me. "Going to Scotland for breaking up, isn't she? Fancy stowing away with me?"

The image of us two huddling together for warmth in the bottom of a lifeboat as the ship steamed north must have hit us simultaneously as we both thrust hands into pockets to cope with our instant erections – our own pockets, that is!

It was time to meet Mr Curtis so I took Austin to the Cunard Building but first I had to pay my respects to my Cunard Man. It may have been a trick of the light but I was sure he was smiling down at me and as we headed for the big front door, he winked at me! So, dear Phil approved of Austin! I felt I was walking on air.

Mr Curtis had the necessary passes and escorted us up the gangway of the Britannic . We were directed to the Tourist Class Saloon, the biggest of all the saloons in the ship. Lots of people were gathering and huge tables were covered in starched white tablecloths. I saw about twenty men in uniform, presumably members of the crew. One came and shook Mr Curtis's hand and asked to be introduced to us. He was the Chief Purser and he offered us a tour of the ship. He waved one of the crew members over.

"Mr Curtis will stay with me but Andy here will show you the bridge and some of the other important places. Andy – meet Alan and Austin. Look after them."

Andy was about seventeen, a tall, well-muscled cabin boy with short blond hair and a fantastic body. How did I know that? Well, it was because his dark blue uniform was skin-tight, everywhere. It was made of thick, very hairy material and the bum-freezer jacket undulated with the movement of the muscles in his torso. The trousers stretched incredibly tightly over his bottom, which stuck out miles, while the contours of his thighs were defined so clearly you could see every little swelling and hollow. He looked incredibly sexy.

We raced after him, up to the bridge, then up even higher to the radio office, situated actually inside the forward funnel, which was a dummy. We visited many more rooms, which Andy called compartments and were about to descend to the engine rooms when Andy looked at his watch. "No time now but maybe later." As he said that, he looked Austin up and down and leered – that's the only way to describe it. I felt a slight shiver of danger.

Back in the saloon, the party had started. The Chief Purser came over and said Mr Curtis had been called away urgently but that Austin and I were welcome to stay and enjoy the party, with Andy as our host. We piled our plates high with food and there was limitless lemonade and stuff like that. Andy didn't eat as he was on duty but he chatted to us and it was obvious to me he was taken with Austin. Who could blame him? To look at Austin that day was to be dazzled with beauty. He looked wonderfully dapper in his slim-fitting suit, his blond hair was sparkling and his eyes shining. Andy called another cabin boy over and they had a few words, none of which I could pick up. Having discovered Austin enjoyed singing and dancing, Andy was looking visibly excited. I reckon if his wickedly tight trousers had allowed, we'd have seen a massive tent in the front!

He asked me what I enjoyed doing and when I said I could neither sing nor dance, instead of looking disappointed he said "Well, Alan, we'll get Austin to do a little act and you and I can sit back and enjoy it!"

And that is what happened, an hour later. The feast was concluded by everyone being given a glass of something sweet and fizzy and various important-looking men made speeches about the demise of the White Star Line, about what a great ship Britannic had been and what a marvellous crew she had had. The brass band that had been playing during the meal gave us a few more tunes, a very fat man in uniform played The Post Horn Gallop on a bugle, and a very thin man with a ukulele gave a George Formby impression, which had Austin and me in fits. Then Andy stood up and introduced Austin.

"Ladies and gentlemen! A young man is going to give us his impression of Gene Kelly! Please welcome the delightful, the delicious – I mean delirious - Austin!"

The showman in Austin couldn't resist and up he went and gave that amazing rendition of Singin' in the Rain , with the addition of some frantic tap dancing on the dance floor, just as Mr Kelly had done in the film, on the drenched sidewalk. Austin received thunderous applause and came back to sit beside me, his lovely face all pink and his hands damp with perspiration. It was impossible for Andy to disguise his excitement and I suddenly felt jealous. Austin was mine , not some cabin boy's. That shiver of danger returned when Andy said we should now continue our tour.

"Ever heard of the golden rivet, boys?"

Austin and I shook our heads.

"It's the duty of every new crew member to find it!" said Andy's mate, who was looming over me. "And bein' as you've just performed in the crew concert, Austin, you'd better bring your friend and try to find it."

Before I knew what was happening, we were descending ladder after ladder into the bowels of the ship. The starboard engine room was a huge, cathedral-like space, with a vast diesel engine sitting motionless in the middle. It wasn't quiet in there, as there were motors and fans and things humming away and it was very hot indeed. I was beginning to sweat uncomfortably. Austin was looking around the place in total awe. Then Andy started taking off his tight little jacket. He wore no shirt so was bare-chested.

"It's hot and dirty in here, boys, so best take off your smart clothes," said Andy, now pulling off his skin-tight trousers. At the sight of the cabin boy standing in nothing but shoes and boxer shorts, Austin and I removed our grey suits. I desperately needed a pee.

"The golden rivet's somewhere down there," said Andy, pointing at a metal grating in the deck, below which was a sort of channel filled with oily water. "So best get your shirts and ties off, eh?"

I was suddenly aware of another person, a man as ancient as the very river itself, in an equally ancient uniform, greasy and filthy. On his head, a vile-looking cap, once white but now every shade of brown. "Aha, me hearties," he croaked. "After the golden rivet, are ye?" He pointed at the silvery drive shaft leading aft from the engine to where the propeller would be. "I'll take ye down to see the stern gland after," he wheezed.

I'd never heard of the stern gland but it didn't sound very polite. The next thing I knew, I was down to my underpants and Andy's mate was steering me towards some duckboards lying on the steel deck. "Some say the golden rivet's over this way," he said. "Down you go, lad; see if you can find it."

I groped about on my knees for a bit and then looked up at him. "I don't know what I'm looking for."

"And even if you did you'll never find it. It's an initiation test. We all had to do it as lads. The best bit comes next."

"And what's that?" I asked, suspecting I already knew the answer.

"Come over here and I'll show you," he said, undoing the fly zip on his monstrous, hairy trousers. We were now about twenty yards from Andy and Austin, well out of earshot.

"Right then, get on yer knees, stick yer bottom up and I'll show you."

He grabbed me by the waist and lifted me off the deck, intending to lay me tummy down on the filthy duckboards, for what purpose I dreaded to think. I cried out to warn Austin but before I could say anything a hand clamped itself over my mouth. My fears were not for me but for Austin. The awful cabin boys could have me but not Austin! I couldn't allow it!

As my feet and then my knees met the duckboards I remembered I was as good as naked. But so was Austin. I guessed Andy had planned this all along and now he was going to do terrible things to Austin, unspeakable thing. How could I fight off Andy's mate and rescue my dear Austin? I'd begun to struggle like crazy when I heard an appalling sound.

At first I thought it was the sound of a whistling kettle coming to the boil but the sound built into a shriek of ever-rising pitch that sounded like the wail of several devils about to meet horrible ends. Well, that's how I described it later. The wheezing roar rose clearly above all the ambient whirring of machinery and then fell away, spluttering into a dying cadence that sounded – as I explained later – like Satan himself giving up the ghost. Andy's mate let go of me and I scrambled to my feet and ran towards Austin.

It was only then that I realised the noise had come from Austin and that Andy was fleeing up the nearest ladder, still clad only in his boxers. Oh my God! What had possessed my sweet Austin? The boy was on his feet, hanging onto a steel railing, his chest heaving and a look of madness in his eyes. I rushed up and put my arm around his shoulders.

"What the hell is wrong?" I croaked. "Are you dying?"

Austin turned to face me, breathing heavily but no longer making those horrendous noises. Indeed, he was smiling as he strove to catch his breath.

"I saw what he was doing with you, Alan so I thought I'd better put on one of my asthma attacks but when I'd started and saw how Andy reacted I thought I'd pretend I was being possessed by devils. Look, it's worked. They've both buggered off!"

Austin didn't look to be in agony and I slowly realised what a fantastic actor he was. I just looked at him, in wonder.

"Oh – you're out of this world!" I said. We were now breathing more or less normally and stood facing each other, grinning mischievously. Simultaneously, we realised we were undressed and looked hastily round to find our clothes. I saw the ancient mariner, lurking in a corner, the rapid movement of a bundle of cotton waste at his groin giving away what he was up to. Filthy old man!

Twenty minutes later, shaken but not stirred, my best friend Austin and I presented ourselves to the Chief Purser to thank him for the party and to say that we had to leave. Of Andy and his mate there was no sign. We walked quickly off the ship and back to Pier Head. At a safe distance we stopped and looked back at Britannic .

"I wasn't expecting it to turn out like that !" I said. "I'm sorry, Austin. Will you forgive me for bringing you?"

"I'm not likely to forget it! I'm glad we didn't tell the Chief Purser what happened though. Andy and his mate would probably get keel-hauled."

I didn't respond. I wanted Austin to answer my question first. In the fog, a siren sounded hauntingly. Austin turned to me, put his arm round my shoulder and drew me close as we turned our backs to the Mersey and walked slowly on.

"And all that stuff about stern glands!" he chuckled. "One day, when we know each other better, we could look for each other's stern gland!" At that he squeezed my shoulder. I'd had my answer.

I felt myself melting and quickly said "I never knew you had asthma, Austin."

"I haven't. But I can put it on sometimes. One day I'll show you my death by strychnine poisoning."

As I sensed the closeness of his body the aching in my heart became a warm, buzzy feeling and spread all over. We walked slowly on, arm in arm. Then Austin spoke again.

"You've been away from me far too long, Alan. Thanks for coming back." He gave me a quick but wonderful kiss on my lips. "Today's been amazing but it's been worth it. Hey, let's enjoy the trip home!"

Realising we were passing my Cunard Man, I looked up at him. It was dark but I'm convinced he was smiling down at me. Thank you, Phil.

Towards James Street Station Austin and I walked, now silent but still arm in arm. As I was reminding myself how much I loved him, and as the Christmas lights in the streets came mistily into view, I felt again the fire in my heart. Then, as if to fan the flames, Austin started to hum the tune of True Love .

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