It’s the school summer holidays and I’m in the boatyard with my friend Tommy Smith. We are around nine years old. There are many boats stored here. They range from rowing boats to small clinker-built cabin cruisers. One of them is being restored by an old man. Well, to us he looks old. He wears a crewcut blue top, the sleeves pulled up, and a peaked cap. His face is ruddy and has a stubbly, grey beard. His arms are strong. Strictly speaking we are not supposed to be here. The boat yard is a gated area and we have crawled in through a gap in the fence. There’s nobody else here but us three.
The old man is standing by a blazing wood fire. He is heating up a bucket of water. Nearby is a beam of wood balanced on a block, with weights on either end. As we walk towards him, he puts a rag around the handle of the bucket and lifts it from the fire, then pours the steaming water over the centre of the beam. It slowly bends. We are fascinated.
“What’s that for, Mister?” I ask.
The old man looks up. “The hot water makes the wood bend easier,” he says. “I’m using it to repair the boat.”
“Can we watch?”
“Of course you can. I tell you what … why not come aboard. I’ll show you the boat.”
Tom and I are curious. We don’t hesitate. “Yes, okay.”
“Come on then …” He points to a ladder leaning against the hull of the boat.
I am the first to climb up. No problem scaling the ladder. Easy peezy. Tom is behind me. He’s a lot heavier than I am, not so agile. The old man follows. We stand at the back of the boat. On the deck there are a couple of jerry cans and a coil of rope attached to an anchor. Ahead of us is a cabin. Inside the cabin there is a small door which is open. We can see down into the bowels of the boat. The old man heads for the cabin, steps through the door, then beckons us to follow him. We gather below deck. The light is not so good here. It’s dingy and cool.
The old man settles himself down on a long bench seat. He invites us to sit opposite him. There is a small table at the far end. I like it in the cabin. But my pleasure is marred by a sense of unease.
He offers us a glass of lemonade. We accept. He opens a cupboard above him, takes out a bottle and three classes and pours the lemonade. We all drink. Somehow the conversation leads on to boy’s cocks. With a sudden sparkle in his eye, he asks which of us has the biggest. I’m not taken aback by his question. We’ve got a P.E. teacher called Taffy Rolands, who is always making comments about boys’ cocks. He puts his hand down the front of your shorts and cups your balls, then remarks: ‘That’s a nice pair of tomatoes you’re growing there son’ or ‘you could play billiards with those’. If you forget your gym gear, he makes you run around the hall naked. It happened once to David Jenkins. Taffy couldn’t keep his eyes off him as he ran around the hall stark naked. We are all wary of Taffy Rolands.
I know my cock is bigger than Tom’s. Sometimes we come home from Life Boys on Wednesday night, walk down the lane with our cocks hanging out. Anchor and Hope Lane is very quiet at night. There’s never anybody out and hardly any traffic. We do it as a kind of mischievous dare. It is very liberating to walk along with your cock hanging out. That’s how I know my cock is bigger than his. Tom’s cock is circumcised. Mine isn’t.
“I’ve got the biggest cock,” I say. There is no pride or sense of achievement in my voice. I am just stating a fact.
The old man asks me to get it out and show him. With a trembling voice he says he wants to measure it. “Take yours out, too,” he says to Tom. He seems eager, suddenly more predatory.
Me and Tom goad each other into going first. It doesn’t feel right. We are shy. The man tries to persuade us, says he’ll get his cock out too. My heart is beating fast. I have a sense of fear and fascination. But the sense of fear is stronger and so I make some excuse about needing to be home. I quickly leave the cabin and climb down the ladder. Tom follows. The old man stays in the cabin. He doesn’t pursue us. We hurry out of the boatyard.