The Observer

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 22

Just before we left the beach, Ellie remarked….

'We never celebrated your fortieth Otta. Not properly. We should have done.'

'No we didn't.'

'Is it too late?'

It was like a final curtain call for all the actors and actresses that had played their part in the minor drama that has been my life these past five years or so. There is the applause as the curtain falls for the last time, and the applause fades away, and we that are left, are left to contemplate our future without them. That's how it seemed to me.

Of course we had the party. We had it in the garden at Watchbell Street, followed by our customary walk to the beach for those who wanted to. It was a small group. Elliot came with his latest girlfriend, the very pretty Isobel. Then there was my son Mathew who had behaved impeccably, surprisingly, all day and kept in order by his girlfriend, the rather tough talking Charlotte who is undoubtedly good for him. Then of course there was James, with Oliver in tow. Goodness me, they make a desirable couple. Oliver, the charmingly effete young man. No, that's not very fair. James would hate me for saying that. Put it this way, they make a very lovely gay young couple. I'm sure Oliver is perfect for James….two years older, kind and considerate, and gentle in the way he handles his beautiful lover.

'Are you ok James?' asks Oliver.

'Yes thanks. Are you?' replies James.

'Umm. A bit tired though. Do you think we'll need our jumpers?'

So sweet!

I walked the beach with Mathew and Elliot, while their girls continued their noisy banter about media characters and clothes, and what was their favourite magazine. I watched James and Oliver walk in front, so obviously proud of each other, arms around waists, with James' hand occasionally straying a little lower to cover one of Oliver's pert and pint sized buttocks held firmly in place by neatly cut and expensive pale grey shorts that didn't hide the kind of underwear he, and James too, favour. Neither James nor Oliver have any money, so they will stay at Watchbell Street tonight. That should be interesting.

Mathew and Elliot veered off towards the water some distance away. I suggested James followed them, which would give me a chance to assess Oliver. Softy spoken, but I'm relieved to report, possessed of a reasonably firm handshake……which lingered rather nicely. The more I look at him, the more attractive he becomes, but I need to know a few details……..

'So how did you two guys meet?'

'Ages ago. At school.'

He smiles, obviously waiting for me to dig a little deeper.

'Ah, so you were at the grammar in Ashford then?'

'No, not that school. Before that. I knew him at the prep in Chichester.'

'Good gracious. I had no idea.'

'Umm, it was an amazing coincidence really. He just turned up one day at Westminster. I help with the Master of Music there, although I'm an instrumental teacher primarily, usually on a one-to-one basis. It's great fun, apart from not being paid much. James had been invited to have a go on the organ there. He was good. He plays for a couple of services a week now.'

'Yes I know. He loves it.'

'He's going to very good. They like him.'

'So you don't have to be a Catholic then?'

'No, not for things like that. Even some of the boys are C of E. It's called equal ops these days. They don't discriminate on grounds of religion any more.'

I laughed. Well, fair enough. I'm beginning to like Oliver, but I need more……much more.

'Come on then Oliver. You're two years older than James. How come you were friends at school?'

'When he first arrived at the school, he was fairly obviously homesick. I found him weeping in a corner more than once. Of course I felt sorry for him. We all did. It's something that newcomers often suffer from. It's the shock of being alone somewhere strange, so I tried to help. So did one or two other boys. I wanted to be…you know…..a proper friend, but that didn't really happen. There was another boy in his year. It was difficult for me. You're not supposed to be very friendly with a younger boy. They think….well, they think you're trying to influence them or something.'

We all know what Oliver is saying don't we?

'So you liked him then?'

'Yes. I thought he was……you know….really nice. I wanted to be friends but this other boy got in the way. I was a bit sad about that.'

'Didn't you tell him how you felt?'

'Yes, sort of. I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't be offended by an older boy wanting to spend time with him. Sometimes we would talk a bit. It sounds a bit silly, but I just wanted to hold his hand…….desperately. I think he knew. Once or twice he let me. We went for walks along the river. We made sure that no one saw us. We would lie down in the grass. That's when he let me hold his hand. It was so exciting. That made it all worse the rest of the time. It was agony sometimes. I'd write silly letters to him and then have to tear them up. I knew he wanted to. It was this other boy.'

'How do you know he wanted to?'

'I just knew.'

'When you lay down on the river bank? Was that when you knew?'

'Yes. I could see he was excited about us being alone together. Once he let me put my arms around him. I know he liked that, but he never actually said. I knew. It was obvious.'

'What was?'

I wanted Oliver to spell it out. He didn't, not quite, but near enough. I suspect that there's some history that James has never mentioned.

'So you were never proper friends then? I thought you were?'

'Did James tell you?'

'More or less.'

A bit of a fib there.

'Ok then. It was after half term in the summer that I was due to leave. I had won an academic exhibition…..a scholarship thing…… for Sherborne. We were all just kicking our heels that last half term, feeling all grown up and important. There was a lot of personal stuff going on…….boys being boys, if you know what I mean. I had decided to come out to James. There were other opportunities but I really wanted him. They would mix up the dormitories so older boys were spread out amongst the younger ones so they were less likely to cause a nuisance. I was put in James' room. My bed was in the corner and his was near the door. One night I'd woken up for some reason. I saw James get out of bed very quietly and leave the room. I wanted to know where he had gone, so I went to the door and saw him go into Mr Sendall's room. He was the assistant housemaster. Everyone liked him. He was young and rather handsome. All the mothers thought he was wonderful. He was like a big brother to us. Just as James disappeared into the room, he turned to look back towards the room where I was standing in the doorway. He obviously saw me, but it didn't stop him. I went back to bed but I couldn't sleep. It was just after five in the morning. About ten past six, James came back. Later, at morning break, I asked James why he had gone to see Mr Sendall in the middle of the night. I was upset and said one or two things I shouldn't have. That afternoon, James found me on the games field and asked me if we could walk somewhere. I was really surprised that he wanted to. We didn't go and get changed out of our games kit. We'd been practising for Sports Day. We went to the same place on the river bank that we'd been to before. We lay down on the grassy bank out of sight, and then he pleaded with me not to say anything about his visit to Mr Sendall's room. I said I'd think about it. I knew that was wrong of me. He must have been really frightened that I'd say something and there would be major trouble. He laid his head on my chest, and put his hand on my tummy. I managed to get my arm around his shoulder. Then he started rubbing my tummy under my tee shirt, on my bare skin. That got me very excited. It was my fault. I turned towards him and kissed him, right on his mouth. I think he was shocked by what I did, but a moment or two later he kissed me back. It was ridiculous really…….so ridiculously clumsy.'

'But it worked didn't it?'

'Oh yes, it worked alright. Do you mind me telling you all this?'

I didn't mind……..not at all. Oliver continues his story……..

'One thing lead to another as you can imagine. I made him tell me why he went into Mr Sendall's room. He was evasive about that. Then I asked him what if anything happened in there. On the first occasion he must have spent getting on for an hour with him. Gradually I got the truth. James started to go into details of what happened. It was incredibly graphic. We had our hands in each other's pants by this time. It was all too much for me. I was so excited. I was two years older than James, and had just started puberty. You can imagine what happened…..and for James too. It was incredibly intense. It just happened once between us. Two weeks later the year ended, and I had left. We still talk about that afternoon down by the river. I've felt guilty ever since. I should never have exercised that power in the way I did.'

'And Mr Sendall?'

'It was no one's fault. He was nice to all of us. He cared about us….too much really. It seemed like he was there all the time. Nothing was hidden from him, least of all our bodies. James was his number one boy without any doubt. We were all a bit jealous of James' good looks. He was beautiful in every way. He'd stand there naked, drying his back or something, just out of the bath, with Mr Sendall watching his every move. It was a performance James provided for him, and us too. I don't think Mr Sendall realized how obvious his own behaviour was. James told him that all the boys had noticed his over-attentiveness towards the boys, and James in particular. James was fully aware of what he was doing. He went to his room to satisfy Mr Sendall's interest in him. After that, the man took several steps back. James made him realise the danger he had put himself in I suppose. He was trying to protect him by offering himself to him, on a plate really. James was in awe of Mr Sendall. He was young and good looking…….very athletic, and always wore a pair of shorts in anything like fine weather. He had several pairs, and all of them were interesting , as James put it. He took us for some games and all the track and field stuff. We weren't allowed to wear anything under our shorts. That was another thing we thought a bit odd. One or two boys were more advanced physically, and it was embarrassing for them, but rather nice for the rest of us, at least those of us that enjoyed the sight of other boys….one or two in particular.'

'Did you ever see all of Mr Sendall?'

'Once, when he was changing outside for swimming. I was sitting on the grass a few yards away with a pretty good view. I think he knew I was looking. I got very excited at the prospect of seeing his bits.'

'And you weren't disappointed?'

'No I wasn't. I was quite impressed as a matter of fact. It's an image that sticks in one's head. He was lovely to look at. I've not forgotten.'

We both laughed as we stood watching the others paddle in the warm shallow water, and quite unaware of the conversation Oliver and I were having. Just as well.

I've warmed to Oliver. My dear sweet boy is safe with him. Just one more thing to get clear……..

'Oliver. Do you love James?'

'Yes, of course I do. How could you not? After I had left Chichester, I thought about him every day. There wasn't a day when he didn't come into my head. Of course I had no hope of ever seeing him again, but that didn't stop the feelings I had. It was all very painful, but gradually it all receded a little but not completely. I just wished that he was happy, and that he'd found someone kind and gentle to care for him.'

'And now he has.'

'Well, that's what I try to be. Sometimes I fail, like we all do. When it's over, we will make up and make more promises to each other, quietly together.'

I smiled.

'And where do you do that?'

'In the best place we know.'

'And does that work?'

'Oh yes, very well. He's wonderfully responsive……and receptive. That's what he wants. He gives so much.'

'And you provide it?'

'Yes, I think so. That's what I want and need to do…..for him…….as much and for as long as he wants me to.'

'Not bad then?'

'No, not bad at all……pretty good really.'

James and Oliver did stay that night. They slept in Mathew's bed, the same bed that James had always used on the nights, latterly, that he didn't sleep in mine. James knew that he wasn't to hold back with Oliver. Alone with James in the kitchen, I had told him not to forego any nocturnal pleasures on account of me. James smiled, and reassured me…..

'No, of course not. But Oliver might not want to in someone else's house?'

'Ask him James……please?'

'Ok, I will.'

I looked at my bedside clock when it was over. Eleven thirty. We had retired to bed at ten thirty, Oliver and James having showered together. They had, of course, emerged drying their naked bodies. Interesting. In the privacy of their own bed, they began to make love, no doubt the way James always prefers. James is blessed with a special talent in those situations, and at the last, I hear his voice……that still small voice I knew so well, calling to me now from a different place……a happy and contented place full of joy. Long may it last for him, and for them.

I hate it when summer passes, opening the door onto shorter and cooler days. I feel rather alone if I'm honest about it, but that's fine. I'm just happy and relieved that the girls and Mathew seem relatively sorted in their separate and varied ways, and that James has found Oliver. There have been trials and tribulations, ups and downs, but somehow directions have been found that will suit them I think, more or less. I suppose time will tell, and their stories will develop over the years. Meanwhile I have to move on.

There are pleasant and satisfying diversions in my life, particularly my appreciation of painting. Few exhibitions escape my notice these days, especially if they are in special locations. Chichester for example. It's a small but very attractive city, and of course it holds special memories for me, and I don't need much of an excuse to revisit it. Lelant House, a wonderful Georgian townhouse, was recently converted into a gallery. Enterprises like that need support, so naturally I became a member.

Saturday sees the opening of a show at the gallery that I can't miss…….'Sickert in Dieppe'. I infinitely prefer northern France to the south, and I find Dieppe one of my favourite towns on the Normandy coast. It has associations for me too, because a campsite there on a former German wartime facility, was the scene of my first sexual encounter with a foreign boy, and slightly younger than myself. He was the son of the couple who ran the campsite. The boy looked typically Norman……short fair hair and an interesting freckly face, always dressed in an pair of faded blue short shorts, something nice underneath with waistband showing, and nothing else apart from a pair of sandals. He had a very open and friendly expression which I found instantly alluring. It wasn't long before we found ourselves running off to corners of the field, communicating with each other through gestures and my very limited schoolboy French and his slightly better English. He must have found me interesting too, as one bright morning, sensing my interest in him, he suddenly turned his back on me, lowered his shorts to reveal a pair of deliciously tasteful French brief underpants. He then bent forwards and patted his behind, which I took to be an invitation. After my initial shock, I quickly got the message. He was most definitely 'up for it' as they say. For the rest of that holiday, we played 'willies' for all we were worth. He possessed the most wonderful pair of buttocks, between which I regularly masturbated, leaving a small trace of clear sticky between them, much to Marco's delight. I would return the compliment in the manner of his choosing. I imagine that Marco's sexual precocity was largely due to being 'shown the way' by his elder brother Pierre. He was, in contrast to his little and very cute brother, quite dark in complexion, possessing a tight mass of black pubic hair around what seemed to me to be a huge penis. I remember the first time he showed it to us. Marco had boasted about his brother's penis. I had cast doubt on Marco's description, but I was wrong. Later, Pierre kindly volunteered to give us a demonstration of how big boys ejaculate. This he duly did, with great professionalism I have to say, kneeling in the long grass, while he insisted that I keep a tight grip on his balls, which felt hard, large and tight. Marco and I were also on our knees either side of Pierre, knickers around our thighs, penises erect and sublime, watching Pierre. He got cracking with a whole right fist around his uncircumcised cock, his other hand keeping a tight grip on my stiff little rod and little balls packed neatly underneath. We waited for the result. When it came, it was not a disappointment. I watched as Pierre's orgasm obviously wasn't far away, judging by the regular grunts and long sighs. Suddenly the opening of his penis widened, as his semen began its journey towards the outside world. Wider still the hole gets. Pierre exhales loudly. Some clear stuff appears, and then without warning the first jet of whitish liquid misses my tummy by a couple of inches, then hangs in long threads from the dry stalks of august grass. In all, it was a magnificent effort. Pierre smiles benignly, packs away a still relatively hard and leaking cock into his pants, with some difficulty, stands up and disappears, job done. Marco looked at me with an air of triumph, full of pride at the accomplishment of his elder and beloved brother. Bless them both. Oh, happy days of summer, and my apologies for those moments of very pleasurable reminiscence.

Sickert in Dieppe. Yes, well worth the visit, especially those sketches of the church of Saint Jacques. He does those streets so well, with the yellow ochre light on the houses. Brilliant stuff. I only wish I could get even a tenth of the way there.

I travel to Chichester, as I always do, by train from Rye via Eastbourne and Brighton. I've chosen a Saturday half way through September…..the same weekend, more or less, that I met James on the train years before. With some feelings of guilt, I have researched the date of the start of the school year. All over the country, new fresh whey-faced youngsters in freshly ironed clothing will be heading towards the unknown, leaving behind the security of their families, to confront new challenges. Already there, older faces are expecting them, and speculating on new possibilities. Young bodies will be laid bare to strangers, for the first time in their lives. Relationships will be sought and found for some. Others will remain isolated and lonely, waiting in hope for real friendship. The end of term will seem a million miles away to them.

It's the usual two-coach diesel that glides towards the platform, motor roaring unnecessarily, at Rye. There are a few people already on it, Ashfordians heading for Hastings and the shops, or Eastbourne for better ones, or Brighton for even better ones. Once past Lewes, I'm watching the outskirts of the town appear as we rumble across the long viaduct over the Lewes Road, houses in neat rows below us. I can't help remembering.

Then I see her, or I should say, them .

She's a typical mother. She's struggling with the boy's bag which is patently too big and too heavy for him. The boy in the pink blazer. I think I must be dreaming, but I'm not. I'm ten yards away, and the woman looks around for help. She'll not find a porter in this day and age. Those days are long gone. I've seen mothers like that before…….long coat flowing behind her, always just a little late, always just a little behind matters, never quite in control of things…..always just a little too much to do. I can't resist a little subtle interference here. I detour slightly, and walk up the two figures. The boy notices me first, swiftly followed by harassed mum.

'Can I help?' I offer with a smile.

'Oh. Thank you so much. That is kind of you.'

'Not at all. Where would you like it put?'

'It's Simon's school bag. It's far too heavy for him to carry really. I don't know what I was thinking about. I'm so sorry. Are you on this train?'

'Yes I am. I'm going to see an exhibition in Chichester. Are you both travelling?'

'No. Simon will be met at the station by a member of staff, at least I'm hoping so. They said they could if………if I arranged it.'

She looked doubtful. I'm doubting if she had remembered to organize that important detail.

'Which station?'


Well why not? Here goes……..

'If it would help, I can get his bag onto the platform once we get there? If there's no one to meet him, I can call a cab.'

'Oh really? That is kind.'

'It's really no trouble. I've had all this with my own children.'

Had all what? It just came out, and made little sense to me as I uttered the words. However, the effect was instant.

'Oh I know . Would you mind then? I would be so grateful….I really would.'

'Of course not. I'll make sure he gets there alright. It is Simon, isn't it?'

'Yes. It's his first term there. He's a little anxious about it all.'

We found a seat at the end of the third coach. The bag was too big for the overhead rack, and as the train was almost empty, I left the window seat vacant and put the bag down next to it. I sat down on the opposite window seat. I check my watch. In two minutes the train is due to leave. Simon and his mother go to the door for the inevitable formalities. The train moves slowly along the platform. I see Simon wave to his mother. He walks towards me, and takes the seat that I've left for him. He's understandably upset. I get out my paperback and begin to read. I look up every half minute or so. All I can do is to leave him to it. His head is turned towards the window to hide his embarrassment. Poor boy. It's a wretched feeling, but he will have to cope like hundreds of others who share the same fate.

It's fifteen minutes before I properly see his face. It's a nice face, albeit slightly tear stained. The hair is light brown, neatly trimmed and showing the remains of a parting. The clear hazel eyes suggest sensitivity and a modicum of intelligence, but of course I can't possibly tell. The journey is a little over one hour. It seems that conversation is something that Simon doesn't really want, and I can't blame him. Shamefully, I can't help studying him. I go on the evidence I see…….nicely shaped thighs, summer browned, that disappear into crisply ironed short grey trousers that when the boy's knees are apart, leave shadowy voids that interest me. Boys seldom sit with their knees together, like girls do. Blazer folded over heavy bag for protection, reveal short sleeves and slim arms and golden hairs…..and hands and fingers, pristine nails manicured by a mother. Lucky boy….well fed, well cared for, loved, and beautiful, but Simon shall for me, rightly, remain an enigma. One hour later, I still know nothing about him. We stop at Ford Station. The next stop is Chichester.

'Almost there now. Are you ready?'

'Yes. Thank you.'

Simon manages a smile. It warms me. I smile back.

'That's alright.'

Our destination imminent, he stands and picks up his blazer, stretching out his body in the process. His shirt is untucked. He notices I'm looking……..

'That won't go down well Simon. They won't approve of shirts not tucked in.'

He smiles, puts down his blazer, and looks back at me.

'Go on then. I'm not looking.'

Of course I looked. With shorts lowered far enough to organise his shirt efficiently, I saw. If he wants one, he will find a friend.

There is no one to meet him at Chichester station. The bag is heavy, but nothing I can't handle, in addition to mine. It's an eight minute walk to the school entrance on West Street. A bell on the red painted door must be rung. Inside now, I explain to a secretary, young and earnest, who, now convinced of my reasons to be there at all, looks up the new boy's name on a sheet of paper. She gets up and leads us to one of the boarding houses…..Neville House. I've never been in this place before. I imagine the smells of the past…..unwashed games kit, the aroma of cheap soap, the smell of bodies and the sweet breath of youth.

We spot two or three other boys. They are 'new' ones too, thank goodness. You can't mistake them. It's very obvious. A man, rather young looking, catches my eye. He's wearing a neat white short sleeved casual shirt with a hurriedly made label pinned on it. As we approach, I read it. Crudely hand written, it announces the man's identity……..Mr H Sendall, Housemaster, Neville House.

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