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The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

A Winning Losing Word

© Pedro November 2020

Late August between Years Nine and Ten

It is a manky sort of day: overcast with frequent showers. Typical for late summer. Tony says that's a stereotype — he has swallowed his dictionary again. Not that that alters the fact that I have been caught in the rain. I'm soaked.

The landline phone starts to ring as I let myself into the house. It is still ringing after I have hung up my wet coat and removed my shoes. Mum must be out or otherwise engaged. I contemplate just letting it ring: at this time of day it is probably some scammer pretending to be Microsoft Internet Security or trying to tell me I can claim compensation for PPI on a loan I have never had. Instead I decide to have some fun and lift the handset.

"You have reached the Trumpton House, home for the bewildered. I'm sorry all our Napoleons are busy at the moment. Please hold and one of our other dictators will be with you shortly."

"How do you know about Trumpton, lad? I suppose that father of yours is responsible. It's the sort of thing he would know about in spite of it being before he and I were born."

Just my luck for it to be a genuine caller. I recognise the voice: Aunt Doris.

"Sorry, aunty. I was expecting it to be a scammer. We've been getting a lot lately." The plumbing announces that Mum is no longer engaged. "Do you want to speak to Mum? She should be here in a minute. I can call her."

"No, it's fine. It's really your father I want to speak to. Would you ask him to give me a ring when he gets home please?"


"Thank you, bye," she says and hangs up before I can ask what she wants to talk to Dad about. Well, that was short. Not sure about sweet, though.

Mum comes into the room and asks who was on the phone.

"Your sister, Aunt Doris."

"For a natter? Why didn't you call me?"

"She wanted to talk to Dad and asked for him to ring her. Said not to bother you."

"I can talk to her then…" You can almost hear the cogs going round as we think about Aunt Doris's request.

"… when it's our call!" we say in unison.

During our evening meal, we tell Dad Aunt Doris wants him to ring her.

"I'd better see what she wants," he says when we have finished eating.

Mum and I clear the table and leave him to hear his fate while we do the washing up. We are about finished when he comes into the kitchen.

"As she didn't have one earlier, she says she would like a chat with you now," Dad says. He grins as he hands the phone to Mum. "Since…" He goes on to say, and Mum and I join in the chorus:

"…it's our call!"

Dad and I retreat to the other room so we don't have to listen to Mum gossip with her sister.

"She says you were being daft when you answered the phone earlier. What did you say to her?"

I tell him I thought it was going to be a scammer and answered pretending to be the home for the bewildered. I also tell him he got blamed for me knowing about Trumpton. He splutters something between a laugh and a grunt. "She was the one who went to the jumble sale and found that box of old 'Camberwick Green' and 'Trumpton' videos you used to watch when you were little."

"You used to watch them with me!" I laugh. "Didn't she get some 'Teletubbies' tapes as well? But we didn't watch those as you didn't like them as much."

"Whatever," Dad says, doing his teenager impression before changing the subject: "You were right though, she was a scammer."

"What do you mean?"

"She's got herself a last minute bargain booking with one of those cheap cruise lines. Carousal, Carousel, something like that. It sails from Newcastle on Saturday and she's conned me into driving her there as she can't work out how to get there any other way, at least not any sensible connection that gets there in time for the sailing."

"Newcastle?" My voice squeaks with incredulity (another of Tony's big words). "That's miles away. How long will that take you?"

"I haven't checked but probably three to three and a half hours each way. I'm not sure I fancy driving there and back in one day. It would be an early start to get her there in time, too. "

Dad drifts off into thinking mode so I go upstairs to my room.

A little while later I hear someone crashing about on the landing. I open my door to investigate. Dad has got the ladder and has opened the door into the loft. He is just about to climb into the loft when he looks around and sees me watching him.

"I'm glad you're here, lad. Make yourself useful and wait by the ladder until I find what I am looking for. Then I can pass it down to you. Save me struggling with it as I climb down."

"What's prompted you to look for something on a Thursday night?" I am curious as he normally keeps his visits to the loft to weekends.

"You with your talk of Trumpton. One of the girls at work has grandkids about the same age as you were when you watched them. I thought she might like the tapes. I'm sure I put them up here somewhere."

He will have. Dad never throws anything away if he can help it. He climbs the ladder and I can hear him start to rummage around. I don't like to tell him but he is probably wasting his time — not many people still use video tapes. However it's not long before there is a cry of success followed by the sound of something being dragged towards the hatch. The corner of a box comes into view.

"There's more than just the videos here, so it's a bigger box than I thought," Dad says. "You need to be careful when I lower it down to you. It is more awkward than heavy, though."

Between us we manage to get the box down without any problems. He takes it downstairs leaving me to close the loft door and put the ladder away. I find him in the kitchen looking in the box.

"The videos are here," he says. "But there are also these." He pulls out several shallow boxes about thirty centimetres by forty with pictures on the lids. "They're jigsaw puzzles. Your mother can have them. She likes doing jigsaws and they should keep her quiet and off our backs for a bit." He lowers his voice as he says that last bit.

"You'll be in trouble if she heard that," I whisper back, and we both stifle a chuckle. He puts a hand back in the box and pulls out another offering.

"Here, you can have this. It will help expand your vocabulary." I grunt my thanks.

He passes me the green and yellow box. It is a Scrabble® set. As I start to read the description on the box, Dad announces that that's everything apart from the videos. He will take them with him to work in the morning. I take the game to my room to look at the contents of the box and read the instructions. A board game based on crosswords should be different. I don't think I have played a board game of any kind since I last lost to Mum at 'Snakes and Ladders' when I was about six. That was when I learnt that gambling was not for me — after she had won all my pocket money off me.

In the morning, Mum is waiting for me in the kitchen. I fill the kettle, put some bread in the toaster, tea in the teapot, and get a plate and two mugs out of the cupboard. By the time I have made the tea, my toast is ready. As I spread butter and marmalade on it, Mum comes and stands next to me.

"We've been thinking..."

"Dangerous!" I state, dodging the expected playful (?) cuff up the back of my head. Except she gets me with the returning, backhand stroke.

She takes the mugs and tea to the table and sits down. I plate up my toast, grab the milk from the fridge and join her.

"As I was saying…" She pauses to pour the tea. "We've been thinking. It is a long way for your father to go to Newcastle and back in one day and he would have to set off at about five in the morning to get Doris there in time for her cruise. That's assuming they don't get held up on the way."

I resist the urge to say it would be a long way just to the next town if Aunt Doris was in the car. That would get me a real cuff up the back of my head.

"So we have decided to leave here as soon as your father gets home from work, pick Doris up and drive to Newcastle tonight. That's why he's gone to work early this morning, so he can finish early. He is going to book somewhere to stay that's convenient for the port so we don't have to rush to get there in time tomorrow. Afterwards we can have a look around Newcastle for a few hours before we set off back here. We haven't been before so it should make a nice break."

"Er, am I expected to come, too?"

Mum mumbles something that I interpret as a yes. It must have shown on my face, because she lets out one of her cackles.

"Got you! Your dad said we should take pity on you and not force you to sit next to Doris for three hours. We agreed that you are now old enough and sensible enough to survive one night on your own if you would rather stay here. How does that sound?"

No contest! At last, a chance for Tony and me to have some time together without any risk of interruption.

"I would prefer to stay here, please."

"Okay. Some ground rules though. No parties." I nod in acknowledgement. "Which means that, to avoid the risk of gate-crashers trying to hold a party anyway, you don't tell anyone you're going to be alone."

"Fair enough. What if some of my friends turn up anyway?"

"As long as you haven't invited them, one or two who just happen to drop in should be all right. They shouldn't expect to stay though! No one after nine tonight. And make sure they don't tell anyone else. Tomorrow shouldn't be a problem. We should be back by six."

"There's only Tony and perhaps Paul or Mel and Virginia who are likely to call."

Mum concedes that they are all nice kids and unlikely to cause trouble, but the rule still stands. She goes through the expected stuff about remembering to lock up at night or if I go out, along with other sensible precautions such as contacting Mrs Next Door if I have any problems.

"Finally, please will you make a list and do the shopping today. Also, we will be eating on the way, so you will be cooking for yourself tonight. You had better think about what you want to eat and add anything you need to the list."

"Okay, I'll do it when I get back from the park. I've got to meet Tony and Paul for our daily workout. I'm late already."

Mum looks at the clock. "If you will be late getting up!" she says.

I grab my football and run down to the park. Paul and Tony are walking though the other gate as I arrive. Made it.

After we have finished our session, Tony asks what I am doing for the rest of the day.

"I've got my cookery lesson with Mrs P, but before that, as I've been told I'm cooking tonight, I have to make out a shopping list so that I can do the shopping after my lesson."

"Do you know what you are going to cook?" Paul asks.

"I thought I would do Indian using some of the things Mrs P has been teaching me. Maybe two or three different dishes."

"Not too hot I hope," Tony comments, then asks: "If I invite myself, will there be enough for me as well?"

Great. He's invited himself. I haven't had to drop any hints or anything, so I haven't broken Mum's rule.

I nod in agreement. "I'll make sure. If I do too much, I can always put it in the freezer."

"I'd love to invite myself as well," says Paul, "But Dad is home on leave and he's booked us in to the Italian tonight."

"Some other time perhaps." I try to sound disappointed, but I am glad he can't come. It saves me having to try and put him off so that it is just Tony and I. Alone!

I gather up my ball and make my excuses — I have to get on and get to my lesson with Mrs P. As I leave Tony asks what time he should arrive. I hold up a splayed hand to indicate five o'clock. Circumstantial evidence, m'lud! I could have just been waving goodbye.

I am doing some prep work in the kitchen when Dad comes home at four. That's early for him.

"Something smells good, lad," he says in greeting. "What are you cooking?"

I tell him my plan.

"Sounds delicious. Makes me wish we didn't have to go now, but it looks like you're doing plenty. You'll keep some for us for tomorrow when we get home, won't you? Save your mother having to cook."

I tell him there should be more than enough and, satisfied, he goes off to get him and Mum ready for their trip.

It seems to take them ages, and I am trying hard not to clock-watch, while worrying that Tony will arrive before they have gone. They finally leave at a quarter to five and Tony arrives a few minutes later. At least they will have gone the other way and not passed him coming to the house.

"Smells good," says Tony when he comes into the house.

"That's just what Dad said when he came home." I reply.

Tony watches me at work in the kitchen whilst I finish getting my dishes to a point where I can leave them until about half an hour before we want to eat. I lead Tony upstairs to my room.

"I didn't see your parents downstairs. Where are they?" Tony asks as we sit down on my bed.

"They're taking Aunt Doris to Newcastle. She's got a late booking bargain cruise that leaves tomorrow." Before I can say more, Tony interrupts.

"With your family it has got to be a bargain," he chortles. "Which cruise line?"

"Dad said something like Carousel or Carousal. Anyway…"

He is giggling again. "Now what?" I ask.

"Either way it sounds a bit racy for your aunt!"


"Well, carousel is another name for a merry-go round. You know a fairground ride."

"I knew that. But what about carousal? Does that mean anything?"

"Yeah. A noisy, high spirited, boozy party or assembly."

"I suppose that fits, rhyming with arousal, but I've not heard the word before," I admit before changing the subject. "Anyway, as I was saying before you butted in, the 'rents are taking Aunt Doris to Newcastle, but they are not driving back tonight. They're going to stop over and come back tomorrow afternoon. So that means I am home alone.

"Better still," I add, wiggling my eyebrows, "it means that, at last, we've got loads of time to be together without the risk of any interruption."

I put an arm round him and gently pull him into a hug, which turns into a make out session that I reluctantly break after a couple of minutes.

"I need a piss," I explain. "I was planning on eating at about seven. Do you want me to bring a drink or a snack when I come back?"

"Drink please."

I am in the kitchen getting our drinks when Tony comes in and sits at the table. He has brought the Scrabble® set.

"Can we have a game please? We've got a set at home but I've never played. Mum and Dad won't play as they accuse each other of making up words. When did you get it?"

"Dad found it in the loft in with some stuff that Aunt Doris gave us years ago. Get the rules out and set it up. There is more room on this table than on my desk."

I am happy to agree to play as it is nice to be just the two of us sharing something. We will still have plenty of time for anything else we might have in mind. And if I don't mention Mum's rules, Tony could probably blag his parents into letting him sleep over. Even if they won't, there is still most of tomorrow for us to get more time alone together.

Although Tony is usually better at words than me, the luck element in drawing tiles each turn has stopped him getting too far ahead. Of course we get engrossed in the game and lose track of time. There are only a few tiles left when the door opens and Mum and Dad walk in with their overnight bags.

"What are you two doing back here?" I ask, suddenly thankful that we are playing the game and not doing something else in my bedroom.

"We were on the M1 near Chesterfield when your Aunt Doris gets a text on her mobile," Dad emphasises the pronoun before her name as if I am personally responsible for her faults. "There has been an outbreak of norovirus — diarrhoea and vomiting — on the ship, so the authorities have quarantined it until it has been thoroughly disinfected. The cruise is cancelled. Doris's holiday plans are stymied."

"Stymied. What does that mean?" I query.

"Blocked, frustrated, unable to progress." Dad looks at the table. "Since you're playing Scrabble you should know it is spelled with a 'y'." He picks up the overnight bags and takes them upstairs.

"I've heard Dad use the word when talking about his golf but I wasn't sure what it meant." Tony says before directing our attention back to the game. "Your turn."

I put a word down, and add the points to my score. When I have pulled my replacement tiles from the bag I realise that there are still two tiles left, so I will get at least one more turn. Before I have a chance to look at my new tiles, Dad returns.

"I'm starving. Is there any curry left? After Doris got her text, we turned back at the next junction, Clowne, and came straight back. We haven't eaten."

"We haven't either," I reply, accidentally admitting that I am expecting Tony to stay for the meal. "We're nearly finished here, then it will be about half an hour before the meal is ready." I look at the clock. "About seven thirty. That all right?"

"I'll live. I will have a beer while I'm waiting, though." Dad gets a bottle out of the fridge and a glass from the cupboard then wanders off into the other room.

Tony has his next word ready and makes me watch him put it down – QUIRE.

"Finally," he says in triumph as he puts out the 'Q'. "I've had that for ages."

Something niggles me about the word.

"I thought it was spelled C-H-O-I-R."

"The singing sort is. This is a measure of paper: 25 sheets, one twentieth of a ream."


Tony has managed to get the Q on a premium square as well, so when he adds his score up, he is nearly sixty in front of me. It looks like he is going to win. Judging by the smug look on his face, he certainly thinks so, at least until he draws those last two letters, prompting a muttered expletive.

I shuffle my letters around trying to make something of them and look at the board for places to attach whatever I can make. Then I realise he has left me an opening. Just to wind Tony up, I take the tiles randomly off my rack to assemble my word, leaving the 'S' that connects with his word until last.

I have made his word into SQUIRE, and I used all my letters for my new word: STYMIED. (Thanks Dad!). The letter score is pretty good and the fifty bonus points for using all my letters puts me well in front. Just to rub it in I also get the points from the letters left in Tony's hand including the X and the Z, which he says were the last two he drew from bag.

The meal is a great success, although I suspect that means I will be cooking more often. Afterwards Tony goes home.

On reflection it has been a fun evening but my devious plans for a different sort of fun were definitely stymied.


This story is part of the 2020 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Home Alone". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 4 September to 25 September is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

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2020 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Home Alkne

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A Winning Losing Word

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