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Toby's Book

by Charles Lacey

Chapter 9

Every town has its places where homosexuals meet for sex. Sometimes it's underground (like part of the canal towpath in Manchester), sometimes it's a quiet spot in some woodlands, sometimes it's in a public toilet, though I think I'd have to be pretty desperate before I tried that. I discovered one, quite by chance, when I had gone into town on a Saturday, and didn't have enough money for the 'bus fare home and had to walk it. My route took me along Mousecroft Road, going westwards. There was a little bit of woodland along there, and for no particular reason except that I enjoyed walking I took it in on my route. To my astonishment as I came into a little clearing, there was a man sitting on a tree trunk, and another, younger man was standing in front of him getting his cock sucked. Two more men were standing around wanking each other.

Then I recognized the young man who was being sucked off. It was one of the boys in the year above mine at school. I didn't know his name but I recognized his face. He recognized mine, too, as I later found when he came up to me at school and begged me not to say anything.

Well, why not? I thought. I unzipped and started wanking too. Before long the two men and I were doing a three-way circle, and when another chap appeared he, too joined in. This was my introduction to "cruising", as it is called, and after that most Saturdays found me in Mousecroft Woods, amusing myself with whoever else might be there.

Until, that is, the day when two very good-looking young men came along. I had my first inkling that all was not well when I approached one of them, and he backed away a little. Well, there was plenty else going on, but it stopped when the newcomers announced that they were police officers, and we were all under arrest. I considered making a bolt for it but thought I probably wouldn't get far before they caught up with me. I don't mind admitting I was more than a little nervous, though.

Well, they brought up a couple of cars and carted us all off to Mouseborough Police Station. We had to give our names and addresses, and were told we should be brought before the Magistrates on Monday, until when we would be released on bail. As it happened, I had not been actually doing anything when the coppers arrived, but I still had to turn up at the Court.

But what was dreadful was that as I was under-age, they had to get Mother to come and collect me. And, predictably, she was furious. "What the hell do you think you were doing? I've got a good mind to get Wayne to thrash you. What you were doing, that's utterly disgusting." And so on, for some considerable time.

When we got home I got another ear-bashing at ever-increasing volume, ending up with "Well, I'm through with you. You can go and live with that disgusting queer friend of yours as far as I'm concerned. I brought you up to be decent, and this is what you do. You can pack your things and go. I don't care where. I never want to see you again, you filthy little shit."

So I went to my bedroom and packed as much as I could in one suitcase, and caught the 'bus into town. When I arrived at John's he was out, but I let myself in and put the kettle on. He arrived shortly afterwards and said, "What's happened? You are as white as a sheet."

We sat down, and I explained why I was there. John chuckled quietly and said, "my poor Toby, it never rains but it pours. Well, you're welcome to stay here for as long as you need. I'll come with you on Monday and you can call me if you need a character witness."

The hearing at the Magistrates' Court was lengthy and fairly involved, as the policemen had to tell them exactly what each of us had been doing. As I had been fully clothed at the time they arrived I had to be given the benefit of the doubt, and was let off with a caution to "keep better company in future." I breathed a sigh of relief. However, the following day I went into school, and halfway through the first lesson someone came in with a message that I should see the Headmaster immediately.

To be honest, going to the Headmaster's study was worse than going to the Magistrates' Court. I thought he might well cane me, but he didn't. "Nutting," he said, wearily, "I am told you had to attend the Magistrates' Court yesterday."

"Yes, sir."

"And I am told that you were, if not actually doing anything at the time the police arrived, you would shortly have been doing… whatever it is that such people do."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, Nutting, do you remember what I said I should do if I ever caught you in this kind of… of filthy behaviour again?"

"Yes, sir."

"I am doing it. You are expelled from this school as of now. You will collect any property belonging to you and return all school textbooks. You will then leave the premises. I will be writing to your parents, and to the Education Officer at County Hall. That is all I have to say to you, except to advise you most strongly to abandon this… this wanton and depraved behaviour and mend your ways before you get into really serious trouble."

"Yes, sir."

And, in some relief at having avoided a caning, I collected my few bits and pieces from my locker, took my textbooks and dropped them off in the school office, and walked out of the school grounds for ever. And as I passed through the gates, I thought, Never, ever again will I have to play football. That thought made me more happy than anything, far outweighing the disgrace of having been expelled. I returned to John's flat and waited for his return.

"Well, there's a thing," said John. "It's very sad to reflect that if you'd been caught in bed with a girl you'd have had nothing worse than a ticking off –except possibly a walloping from her father. It's not fair. Eventually things will change, but that's not much help to you now. Well, you will need to make some kind of plan for your future. What kind of thing do you want to do when you leave school? Did you want to go to a university, or do you have other thoughts?"

"I don't know. I don't think I'd really have got the exam results to be offered a university place, even if I'd been able to stay on at school. What I'd really like to do is something practical, something with my hands. Perhaps a joiner, like Mr Hobbs."

"I know your mother wouldn't agree with me, but I think it would be far better to be a happy and contented joiner than an unhappy and insecure graduate. And I guess your mother won't have the opportunity to say anything now. You're over sixteen, so legally you are your own man and can make your own decisions as to your future."

"Mother was dead set on my going to university. But what I'll do now, I have no idea. The thing I'm best at is model making, and I couldn't make a career out of that."

"Why not? Toby, I'm going to put an idea to you. I've had this in my mind for a little while and now seems to be a good time to bring it out. You don't have to agree, and if you don't like the idea I won't be in the least bit offended, but I'd like you to take a day or two to think it over. Alright?"


"Mr Keene, who has the shop below, is going to retire shortly, and the shop will be closing. Boots' have taken a good bit of his custom anyway since they opened their shop in the High Street. Sadly his only son died in the War, and he doesn't have anyone else to take over, so the shop will be empty.

"Now, as you probably know, I own the shop, and the flat above it, so I shall be looking for a new tenant. It will need some work done on both the flat and the shop, but I think you are a good enough joiner to do most of the work, and I can always get a regular builder to do anything that's more than you can cope with. I'd pay you a proper journeyman's wage, of course.

"But when the work is done I'd like to open a hobbies shop. There's nothing of that kind in Mouseborough at present, and I think there would be a good market. At the same time you might perhaps go to the Technical College part time and learn metalworking skills. Then, perhaps when you reach twenty-one, you would become the manager and run the whole thing."

I stared at John, open mouthed. Of course, learning new manual skills, especially working in metals as well as wood, would be thoroughly enjoyable. And the thought of eventually running a little business in model-making filled me with delight. But could it be made to pay? I put the question to John.

"I don't see why not. There are model shops in most towns, and if they didn't make a profit they wouldn't stay open for long. We'll get some professional advice – my bank manager will be the first person to talk to – but I think it could work."

I needed my tools, though, and I wanted to collect everything of mine from Mother's house. John didn't have a car of his own at that time, so we took a taxi. We carefully chose a time when Mother would be out, but I knew where the key was hidden, so I went in. My bedroom had been completely cleared. Even the bed had been stripped; just a bare mattress remained. The wardrobe was empty, and so was the chest of drawers. What broke my heart was that the Meccano which my beloved Matthew had given me, and which I still treasured for his sake, had gone.

I went out to the shed. Fortunately my tools were still there; either Mother had forgotten about them or had not yet got round to disposing of them. So I packed them all up in a big holdall bag and came away. It felt strange, leaving the house like that. But I knew Mother well enough to know that there would be no going back. I wondered about Annabel, whether I should see her again. We'd never been all that close but, after all, she was my sister.

I popped in to see Mr Hobbs before leaving. He was as kindly and encouraging as he had always been. I suspected that he'd overheard Mother screaming at me and put two and two together. But he gave me some more wood and told me that if I ever needed any help or some supplies I was to call on him.

I wrote to Leo and to Matthew, telling them what had happened and giving them John's address. Matthew and I had kept up a correspondence since his family had left England, though it tended to be no more than two or three times a year. I wanted him to have my new address as I was pretty sure that if a letter came to Mother's house she would just destroy it unread.

Flat 127
The Square

Dear Matthew,

This is to let you know my new address. I won't go into detail now, but I have left home and am living with my friend John in Mouseborough – the address is above. I've also left school and am working as a joiner, and thoroughly enjoying it. I don't think I was ever cut out to be the academic type!

Anyway, do drop me a line when you can and let me know how you are getting on. You must be nearly ready to leave school now! Are you planning to go to university? And if so is there any chance it might be in England? I'd love to see you again. We've got a lot of catching up to do!

With love as ever,

As I'd said to Matthew in my letter, I was thoroughly enjoying the joinery work. A couple of times I asked Mr Hobbs if he could come over and advise me, which he did, and was very encouraging. It was lovely to see the gradual changes and improvements in the flat which had been very dingy and old-fashioned. I made a complete new kitchen and learned a good deal about plumbing in the process.

And then an air-mail letter came from New Zealand, but in a handwriting I didn't recognize. I opened it in some trepidation, hoping it didn't contain bad news.

Carrefour Lodge
Aberlour Road
New Zealand

Dear Toby,

Thank you for your letter to Matthew. I'd written to your old address, but you clearly didn't get my letter, so I am writing again.

It is very sad news, I'm afraid. As you know, Matthew had rheumatic fever as a little boy, and his heart was damaged. He'd compensated very well and as long as he avoided strenuous exercise it didn't affect him. Recently he had started to get very tired and the doctor put him on some new medication. He was going to see a cardiac surgeon and we were waiting for an appointment.

Then one night he woke us up saying he felt very ill. He was breathless and his heart was beating much too fast. We rang for an ambulance and Peter went with him, but he died on the way to the hospital.

Toby, I know you and Matthew were very close friends. One of the last things he said to Peter in the ambulance was "please write to Toby and tell him I still love him." He had often talked of visiting England and seeing you again.

I thought you might like to have the enclosed photos. Needless to say, if you are ever in New Zealand, you must come to us and stay for as long as you want to.

With much love from us all, including Matthew,

Yours truly,
Joan McKenzie.

Enclosed with the letter were two photographs. One was of Matthew and I, taken by his father on the day we went to the beach together. Two laughing boys, happy in each other's company. The other was of Matthew's memorial stone.

In loving memory of

Matthew Peter McKenzie


Beloved son of Peter and Joan

"And underneath are
the everlasting arms

Well, clearly Mother had destroyed the letter. Not only was I desperately sad at the news of Matthew's death, but I was also furiously angry with her. I debated with myself what to do, and in the end I went to Wayne Buckley's garage, just as I had done with John some years previously, and marched into his office, slamming the door behind me.

I told him, in some detail, just what I thought of him and Mother. He listened, looking down at his desk, and then when I had finished, he looked up at me, grave and somehow almost humble.

"I'm sorry, Toby," he said, "I'm truly sorry. A letter arrived for you with a foreign stamp and your mother just put it on the fire. But I've been hoping to find you as I have some property of yours. After you left your mother asked me to take all of your things to the tip, and I said I'd done so, but actually they are in the store room here. If you like to come with me now I'll give them to you."

He led me downstairs, through the workshop and into a large room lined with shelves. And there, along with a couple of black bin bags filled with the clothes I hadn't managed to collect when I left, and a couple of boxes of books and other miscellaneous items, were the boxes of Meccano that Matthew had given to me.

I turned to Wayne. In that moment I forgave him everything, even the time he tried to seduce me. "Take what you can now," he said, "and come back for the rest of it when you are able to." Of course I took the Meccano straight away. When I got back home (for John's flat was more Home to me than my parents' house had been since the death of my father) I unpacked the boxes. Most of it was as I had left it, sorted neatly into smaller boxes and bags, but there was one piece, a model car, that Matthew and I had made together, and I had kept intact as a memento of him. I have it still.

The next day I went back to the garage to collect the rest of my things. On the way I stopped and bought a bottle of wine for Wayne which I left with his secretary along with a card to thank him. A lot of the clothes I had outgrown, of course, and my spare school uniform was no longer much use to me. But it was nice to have a few of my old things back, especially my books. And among them was the pair of football boots that Wayne had given me when he first came to our house. They were obviously unworn, and I wondered what he had thought when he found them. In the end I took them to a charity shop.

But I had always hoped that Matthew and I might meet again and renew our friendship. One part of me wanted to get on the next available aeroplane and go to New Zealand. But of course there was no point. And I felt that to stay with his parents when he was not there would have been unbearable. So I wrote to them:

Flat 127
The Square

Dear Mr and Mrs McKenzie,

Thank you for your letter and enclosures. Unfortunately I didn't receive your first one as I had moved before it arrived.

Please let me express my deepest sympathy for your loss. I remember Matthew as a dear friend, one with whom I was happy to share everything. He was always so enthusiastic about the things we did together, and so sympathetic towards the feelings of others. I am sure he will have become a young man that you could be very proud of. I cannot even begin to think how you must miss him.

Thank you also for your invitation to stay. I will be sure to come to New Zealand some day.

With deepest condolences,

Yours truly,

And so a chapter of my life closed. I'd always hoped that Matthew would come to England and that we could meet again. I'm sure we would have taken up our friendship where it left off. He was like that. John, bless him, was quietly sympathetic. I showed him the letter and the photographs. "Yes," he said, "I can see how you would have been good friends."

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