Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 14

"So anyway Dad, that was Gill's idea. What do you think?"

"Minor problems only like I'll have to convert the toilets for disabled access and build a wheelchair ramp into the Mill but as I say, none of these are major issues and all easily sorted out.

On the plus side, something tells me we might even be in line for a Government grant but I'll have to make a few telephone calls before I can be certain, in fact I'll do that right now."

A couple of hours later with various telephone calls made, my Dad suggested a meeting in our private office.

"It's good news.

First I spoke with the Department of Employment and they confirmed that we would be eligible for grants. 25% towards a disabled person's wages and 90% towards their National Insurance contributions and as you can imagine, that's a fair chunk of money. I was a bit concerned about taking on more staff what with the wage bill and everything but this makes it very doable.

The next call I made was to the Ministry of Works and this is the icing on the cake.

They will fund in full, the total cost of converting the toilets and the construction of the wheelchair ramp providing we use their authorised contractors.

Personally I don't give a shit who does the work if it's free and not only that, it's something less for me to worry about.

They gave me a list of these contractors and so I called the Reading based one. It turns out that this time of year they're slack and were actually thinking of laying people off but with this little boost, they won't have to, not just yet anyway, the upshot is that they are sending their surveyor to see us this afternoon and can start the work tomorrow morning at eight-thirty."

"That's brilliant news Tim but can I ask why they're prepared to do this?"

"You may Justin. Quite simple really.

It costs the State more in unemployment benefits to have these people out of work that it does the cost of the grants.

Another reason is that when folk are bored or feel undervalued, they get sick more often both physical illnesses and also mental problems, both of which are a drain on NHS resources so the Government win on all fronts plus we get an enthusiastic workforce."

"Very clever!

Do you think we should have a quiet word with Gill? Matthew's replacement is very important and if this girl is willing, it might be a good thing to arrange a meeting with her."

"You might just as well. No harm in setting the ball rolling.

I'll leave you to it and if you need me I'll be at the house."

"So there you have it.

Do you really think she'd be interested Gill?"

"I think I can guarantee she will. She's bored out of her brains sitting alone at home all day."

"All the time? Doesn't she ever get out?"

"Sometimes. She can drive, she even has a little car that's been modified for her disability but she can't afford the cost of fuel on the pittance she earns.

Trust me, she'll jump at the chance."

"An unfortunate metaphor given her circumstances." Jus laughed.

"Don't worry about it! She'll like your attitude too! Do you want me to call her?"

"What do you think Alex? All this decision making at our age is scary."

"Yeah I feel the same way but my Dad has left us to do stuff so yes, why not? Matt has to be replaced whatever happens so give her a call Gill and find out if she wants to play but by the way, you never told us her name?"

"Neither did I! Sorry guys, her name is Megan, Megan Fry.

Don't for God's sake tell her I forgot that bit, she'd have my guts for breakfast!"

"So we might have another contender for Ms Attitude then?"

"She has to have a degree of attitude given her situation, without it she'd cave in but I know what you're driving at. Kirstin will have a very friendly rival on her hands."

Megan was great. Bright enough to light a room but happy enough to take on the slightly menial task of packing but it soon became obvious that she could also organise the order in which Matt would deliver, sort of a dispatch manager and so the rest is history.

Our business grew to the point that by the time Jus and I were allowed to bring 'Spook' back to Mapledurham we were employing twelve people, most of which had disabilities.

We went back to the school to get our exam results, both of us really nervous but as we walked in, the Head Teacher noticed us.

"Welcome back boys. The day of judgement eh?"

Again, used to the system, Jus took the lead.

"Yes Sir. It isn't passing that might be at issue but rather the grades. We've got this silly rivalry going down."

"What is that may I ask?"

"We said that in all subjects at 'O' level, only straight 'A' grades were acceptable or sit the exam again.

Stupid really but there you have it."

"Ahh so now I understand but you are what, fifteen Justin and you Alexis, what fourteen? That is a very hard target to hit at your ages?"

"Maybe it is sir but one to aim for at least."

"Quite so, quite so.

Are you ready to go and collect your envelopes then?"

We followed him into the school hall where about fifty or so other pupils were sitting around waiting for the post to be opened.

The Head Teacher called for order.

"Thank you boys.

Today is a big day for all of you and doubtless you're all nervous but I hope also excited to see the results of years of hard work.

I'm sure that many of you will have achieved the results you wanted but there will be those of you who will be disappointed and it's to you I wish to direct my comments.

We are all different, not all of us can be academically gifted so while it's no bad thing to feel disappointed, I also want you to feel proud of what you have achieved and come back next term with a positive attitude determined to do better over the next school year.

I am here as too are all the staff, to help and guide you to be the best you can possibly hope to be in all things whether it's academically or practically so if deep down you can honestly say that you tried your level best then nobody will criticise you.

So gentlemen, the envelopes have been arranged on the tables in alphabetical order so please feel free to find yours and I wish you all the very best of fortune."

He turned to Jus and I.

"I suggest you let the bun fight subside before finding yours. There's likely to be plenty of pushing and shoving, there always is! Pent up nervous energy! We don't normally tolerate such behaviour here but today we turn a blind eye."

With the melee over, many happy faces and a few not so we ventured forth to find our papers and once in our hands, we took them over to where we'd spotted a couple of chairs.

Jus turned to me

"So who's going first then?"

"Why don't we do it together? Makes sense don't you think?"

"Okay. On the count of three. One, - two, - -THREE!"

We tore open the envelopes and studied the contents. I felt a lump come to my throat and as I looked up at Jus, tears were running down his cheeks.

"So? Why the tears? They can't be that bad?"

"It's not that. Don't you ever cry when you're happy? IV'E GOT STRAIGHT 'A's!!!"

"Guess what clever clogs? SO HAVE I!!"

If the Head Teacher thought his pupils were rowdy then he hadn't counted on us being able to out-do them.

Ecstatic doesn't come close! We danced around the hall like a pair of idiots until a prefect stopped us.

"What's with you two? Pass did you?"

"And then some! Sorry if we were getting a touch carried away but if we were at school here it would be worth detention!"

"Oh right! Now I understand. The Head told us that there were two boys collecting their results who didn't go to this school. You must be them then."

"Yeah, we're home tutored but had to come here to sit the exams so it made sense to come here for the results."

"Cool. So how'd you get on?"

Jus offered him his papers.

"Have a look for yourself. I'm sure Alexis will let you see his as well."

The prefect's eyes almost bulged out of his head.

"All 'A' grades? You have to be pulling my chain, right? What about you young'un? Can I see?"

I passed him my envelope.

"Sure you can."

"Dear God in his heaven! Straight 'A's as well?

Does our Head know about this?"

"Wouldn't have thought so. He greeted us when we got here but I've not seen him since."

"He should be told if for no other reason than for him to know it's possible for guys of your ages to not only pass but pass in such spectacular fashion.

Have you got five minutes while we go and find him?"

"If you feel it's that important then fine. We'll just get the next bus back."

He led us down a corridor to an office suite and knocked on a door.


The prefect opened the door and ushered us into the Head Teacher's office.

"Sorry to disturb you Head Master but I knew you'd want to see these boys before they left the premises. Not their idea Sir but mine but their results are just outstanding!"

"Very well Thompson.

Okay boys, how did you fair?"

We passed him our envelopes and he read them in turn, his smile becoming wider by the minute.

"In all of my teaching history, never before have I seen or even dared to see such a phenomenon!

Both of you took what, ten GCE 'O' levels and some in subjects we don't even teach here but yet you can achieve grade 'A's in all of them.

This in itself is an unbelievable occurrence but made even more so because of your ages.

You can be justifiably proud of yourselves and maybe one day you'll tell me of your motivation so we might introduce some of it here.

Very well done boys! I hope we have the pleasure of seeing you when you sit your GCE 'A's!"

[Note: In those far off days, English schools were obliged to have every pupil sit GCE 'O' Level or General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level at age 16 and if the pass grades were good enough then the kids would go forward to sit the GCE 'A' Level or General Certificate of Education Advanced Level at age 18. In the event these results were good enough then the pupil could apply for a place at University. It was normal for only a total of four subjects to be studied at 'A' Level.]

We left the school buoyed up beyond belief. Perhaps we should've gone back to the Mill but instead we went back to the house to break the news to my Mum and Dad and Sir George and Lady Eleanor.

It goes without saying that they were all as delighted as we were, Sir George insisting that we all went out that night for a celebratory meal but it was only after all the fuss had died down that my Mum sat us down for a talk.

"Well you two, what can I say except that despite my doubts you have pulled off a massive feat of learning. I realise that you're both bright lads but I honestly thought that you'd bitten off rather more than you could chew. Oh yes I knew you'd both get pass grades and pretty good ones at that but never in a million years did I think you could achieve straight 'A's but I'm proved wrong and all credit to you."

"But we had excellent teachers in you and Tim. I for one couldn't have done it without both of you guys."

"Thank you Justin but it was you who had to do all the hard graft."

"Maybe but I'm reminded of something Tim said shortly after we met. He said that there was no one-way to learn, you know private versus state, Grammar Schools versus Comprehensive, it's all down to the individual pupil and how they fit into that learning environment. Find that right environment and the results will happen.

That as much as anything else is what you did for me.

I remember those first lessons I sat in on and how much I enjoyed them and so everything stemmed from that. There were nights when Alex and I would still be up at gone midnight studying, not because we had to but rather because we wanted to."

"I suppose that's true enough.

When we first knew you, you were behind in just about all core curriculum subjects but now and after only a few short months you're a year ahead of yourself and that brings me neatly to the subject of where you go from here.

You had muted about sitting your 'A' Levels this summer and while it's possible you could do it, I'd rather you didn't rush your fences but rather give yourselves a full twelve months in which to complete your studies."

"But Mum……"

"Yes okay Alexis but please hear me out.

I have a number of reasons for suggesting this.

First and foremost, giving yourselves that extra time will enable you to take a break, escape on your boat for two or three weeks or whatever. You've done wonders up at the Mill and that together with your studying despite all the awful things that have happened to both of you, both of us and also George and Eleanor think you should ease off somewhat and take time to recharge your batteries.

There is one other reason however, that being the question of Universities.

Assuming you get good enough results to warrant a placement and judging by this performance none of us believe that's an issue but it will take time to sort it all out bearing in mind you are both very young to embark on higher education and some faculties might not be sympathetic about enrolling you."

"I hadn't given any thought to University Mum. It's been one step at a time and Uni seems to be a long way into the future."

"Well it wouldn't be if you had your way and sat your exams in the summer! Can we agree on sitting them next Christmas then?"

Jus and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

"We'd kind of set our sights on this summer but now you've explained the reasons why you don't agree, okay, we'll go for next Christmas.

Alright with you Jus?"

"I guess so. It makes sense now I think about it but I don't want to lose the impetus so could we maybe take that break in the summer?"

"Oh God yes! I never expected you to go out now! I can only imagine you've had a gut full of winter cruising for one year. Stick with studying for now and you've still a business to run and that was something your father was going to talk to you about but I'll just mention it while we're here.

You're going to be worked very hard if you are to achieve your goals and all assuming you get University placements, you won't have too much time to be running a business as you do now plus there's the possibility it'll grow which will exacerbate things. Your father thinks you should get somebody up to speed and promote them to the position of General Manager.

Any thoughts?"

Jus looked thoughtful before replying.

"My first reaction is Joe but then he's an engineer through and through and might not relish the prospect of being tied behind a desk so given who we have at the moment, Gillian comes to mind. She's very intelligent, switched on even plus she's good with customers. Her book-keeping is second to none and she's one hell of an organiser. We always said we'd promote from within so…… what do you think Alex?"

"Sounds sensible enough.

My only worry is that she'll balk at the prospect of such a meteoric promotion and refuse it. Then what do we do?"

"Sell it to her, you dummy? We train her and provide help and assistance where necessary, hike in salary and job done!"

"She'll need help in the office if she's going to shoulder the extra responsibility. Who do you suggest?"

"That's easy. Megan.

We'll have to employ another packer but that Gill could do as one of her first managerial tasks. She knows loads of people and we can be sure she wouldn't select someone she didn't trust, she's just too loyal. Megan is good on the telephone, she can type and if her shipping skills are anything to go by, she's a good all round organiser."

"I'm convinced! Let's do it!"

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