I smiled to myself as I awoke to a shaft of clear light through a gap in the curtain, light which told me that it was early morning and that I was not in drab Army quarters any more, but at my family home, a solid stone farm house in the Yorkshire Dales. For I was on leave for five from the Regiment I had joined on leaving university last year with a degree in History and Politics. I was rather chuffed to get leave at this time because my father, a Naval Officer, was coming home too and was expected later that day. And so, I thought contentedly to myself, I could look forward to a long weekend free entirely of military discipline, the Officers Mess, square-bashing, seminars and Rugger, which I was already playing for the Regiment. Five days of lively talk, of reading, of walks through the rugged countryside I had grown up with and loved. A shooting expedition was possible, there would be church on Sunday listening to the wise but gentle sermons of Reverend Marston, and there would be drinks in the village pub with chaps I would talk to endlessly about cricket and politics. Blissful, I thought. I shivered as I threw back the duvet. It was a cold winter morning and although the sky was largely blue, grey clouds hung menacingly. In Yorkshire winters, rain was never far away, even after a frosty night. I loved the bracing weather here. It made me think clearly and enjoy the challenge of the outdoors. As I washed in the bathroom, I looked longingly at the cold green hills with sheep dotted on them like oversized snowflakes. They seemed to beckon to me, as they had always done since I walked and climbed them as a child.
It was early morning, and so I tip-toed to my room so as not to wake my Uncle John, a colonel in the Territorial Army who taught geography at a boys' preparatory school nearby, but was on half-term holiday for the next couple of days. John had been a full-time Army officer until my mother died, when I was six years old. Then he had moved back to our family home and largely brought me up himself - taking me shooting, fishing, walking and caving, but above all, talking to me about everything I wished to talk about. It was John, a Tory Councillor in the district, who had introduced me to politics, with which I had been fascinated since I was twelve. John was like a father and elder brother rolled-into-one, for my father was often away at sea and since the Falklands War had been busier than ever. Yet my father and I were growing closer with the years. We wrote to each other twice a week, which my friends both at university and in the Army found unusual. During my teenaged years, he did all he could to persuade me to join the Navy, citing all manner of historical and other references to prove its superiority and invoking loyalty to my grandfather, a well-decorated Admiral who had been in World War II. The more he did this, the more resolutely `Army barmy' I became. When I was sixteen, he arranged for me to spend a week aboard ship, which I enjoyed very much, but remained un-persuaded and so he had at last given up. An Army scholarship had seen me through university, where unlike so many of my friends, I knew exactly what path my career would take.
After I had washed, I put on a green Army `woolly pully' sweater with patches on the shoulders and elbows and a pair of dark brown corduroy trousers and went downstairs to make breakfast. The stairs, of which there were two flights, creaked beneath my feet, but I could hear my uncle snoring softly as I passed his room. I was not only going to have a hearty breakfast but a massive fry-up, I thought with pleasure. Then I would spend the first part of the morning drinking coffee and reading The Daily Telegraph, scouring the paper as I always did for the obscurest items of news. It would be the first time I was alone, at least properly alone, in many months, and although I loved Army life and the company of the other chaps, I suddenly enjoyed solitude. Before making breakfast, I revived the wood fire in the library, where I would sink into an armchair later as I waited for my uncle to surface. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of myself in the big old mirror, a red haired young man in a green military sweater, of muscular build through fitness training and Rugger, whose clear blue eyes radiated hope and a sense of possibility. I felt a sudden surge of naive pride in being an officer in the British Army, the goal I had worked towards since childhood. There was no Empire to defend any more, but there was freedom and the traditions I loved.
The noise of the door turning alerted me as I cooked sausages, bacon, eggs, fried bread and tomato in a bewildering array of pans. It was then that I knew I was no longer alone.
`Hello, Johnny,' I said to my uncle. I had recently taken to calling him by his Christian name, which he had accepted with his usual good humour. As a boy, I once had the notion to call my father `Sir', as they did in Victorian times. He found this immensely amusing and so I persisted with it to this day.
Uncle John nodded.
`Hello, Rob, old boy,' he said, with a yawn. He had sat up half the night talking to me, and was clearly tired. `I thought I would join your early morning feast.'
I nodded and signaled to him to sit down at the large kitchen table, where he immediately began to read the copy of The Daily Telegraph that had just arrived, and which I had been saving for myself. Like me, he wore a military sweater, but his was chocolate brown, and he wore green corduroy trousers. In his mid-fifties, Uncle John's dark brown hair was thinning on top. He was of thin, quite wiry build but his cheeks were ruddy from a life of outdoor pursuits. He wore black, schoolmasterly spectacles and had a generous smile on his face with a hint of mischief in his blue-grey eyes. They called him the smiling geography master at his school. I had made easily enough food for two, and so I was happy to serve Uncle John. I gave him a strong cup of coffee, poured one for myself with milk in it and sat beside him, so that we could read the paper together.
`Well, old chap, what are you going to do today?' he said, when we had both ploughed through our mound of food and were onto the editorial pages.
`Nothing,' I said, smiling with excitement at the prospect. `Absolutely nothing, and I'm going to love it.'
`Absolutely right, dear boy,' said Uncle John. He smiled as he lit his pipe. `In that case, Rob, I wonder if you might let me do nothing with you.'
`Of course, Johnny. Since we do everything together, we might as well do nothing together, too.'
Uncle John laughed, a hearty booming laugh that showed his enjoyment of life. We took more coffee and toast.
`I say, old chap, you can't monopolize the cricket pages like that,' my uncle complained. For I had carefully detached them from the rest of the paper and was hogging shamelessly the Test Match reports from Down Under. My uncle and I were both fanatical followers of the game.
`Give over, old boy. Play fair,' he spluttered, with mock outrage.
`Let go of me, Johnny. Stop it. No. No. Plee-he-hease. No. Oh, ha ha ha. Ha. Ha. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'
For Uncle John was holding his pipe with one of his long, bony hands, whilst the other he had wrapped deftly round my waist and was using it to tickle me in the ribs.
`Pleeeasse, Joh -ho -honny. Please, Uncle John. Ha Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhh. Ha, ha, ha.'
`Give me those cricket pages, old chap.'
`No, Johnny. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'
`The cricket pages, Rob?'
`No, Johnnny. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!'
`The cricket pages, dear boy?'
`Oh, all right. You win. Haaaaaaaaaaagggggggh!'
Typically, my uncle delivered a final, devastating tickle as I handed him the pages he so wanted. Uncle John tickled me every single day we spent together, and often many times over. This had been so ever since I was a small boy, indeed ever since I could remember. With my uncle, I knew that I could be tickled at any time, for any length of time, and for any reason, or more often than not, no reason at all. As I grew from a boy into a man, my uncle's tickling had if anything become more frequent and protracted. Once, when I had come home from university for Christmas at the end of my first term, Uncle John had ambushed me in the library after lunch and tickled the living daylights out of me until we were both called for supper. On top of this, my father tickled me every day as well. He would routinely pass me on the stairs or in the garden and poke me in the ribs or stomach until I was doubled-up with laughter. My extreme ticklishness had been a source of continual amusement to my friends at boarding school, and to many of the masters who, tipped off by my beloved father and uncle, made sure that not a day went past without my being tickled. University offered no relief, for the retired officers who ran the Corps were friends of Uncle John from Army days, as was the Cricket Club's Chairman. Now even in the Mess I was being tickled by waggish senior officers, one of whom I knew had received a letter from my uncle. As I watched Uncle John, engrossed in his cricket scores and oblivious to the rest of the planet, I began to have an idea.
`Johnny,' I said at last. `why don't we take the paper to the library and sit by the fire I've made up? At least it would be warmer in there I suppose.'
`Splendid idea, old chap,' he muttered, clutching his pipe in one hand and The Daily Telegraph in the other and following me obediently upstairs.
The library was a large room with high ceilings and an array of comfortable armchairs, used as a study by me and a smoking room by my father and Uncle John. The shelves consisted of books collected over the years by my grandfather, Admiral Sir George Hargraves, and reflecting his interests in geography, geology, anthropology, history, politics, religions of all kinds, all three of Her Majesty's Armed Forces and an array of other subjects. As a boy who liked reading, this collection had been a godsend. Unlike my father, the Admiral encouraged my interest in the Army and followed my studies at school and university with interest. It was in him that I first confided my desire to enter Parliament one day. He approved of this ambition, and trained me in argument by pretending to be left-wing and gauging my response. Still very much alive, he had taken a small cottage near the railway station. I would be spending the day with him tomorrow, and would doubtless get tickled by him as well.
Uncle John paused by the British Politics section, as I knew he would. Re-lighting his pipe, he said something about politics being better in the hands of gentlemen, don't you think old boy?
`Yes, Johnny,' I said, my hands closing in around him. `Diggy, diggy.'
`No. Noaaaaaaaaaagh, ha, ha. Ho, ho, no, Rob.'
`Diggy. Diggy. Diggy.'
`Ha, ha. No. Rob, Ha, Ha - What are you doing? Ha. Tickling me. What, ho - Ho, ho, haaaaa!'
`You have a lot to answer for, Uncle John,' I said, my hands still clinging to his sweater, then digging once more into his sides.
`Ho, ha. Lot to answer for. What? Ha, ho. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhh! I'm so ticklish, old chap, even at my age. No. Haaaaaa -'
I took the pipe from his mouth. Uncle John rounded on me then, his eyes moist with laughter. As I tickled him, he tried vainly to wrestle me to the floor, but it was he who fell.
`Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Heeeee, hee. Old chap, please. Show some respect. Haaaaaaaaaa -'
`Johnny, you have been tickling me every day of my life. It's time I got my turn, isn't it?'
`Well, isnt't it?'
`Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Ho. I', so ticklish - Hoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahha. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Ha.'
`Now you know what it's like to be tickled and tickled until you can't even speak, don't you Johnny?' I said as I looked down gloating at my uncle, writhing on the hearth rug, gasping with laughter, reaching for the pipe that was unlit and out of reach. I sat on him and grinned in triumph, as he had so often grinned at me.
`Don't you, Johnny?' I repeated, hardly able to contain my own laughter as I tickled him under the arms.
`Ha. Yes, old chap, of course, Ha. Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-'
`But this is only the beginning, dear Uncle. You are going to know what it's like to be really, really tickled. Tickled until you reach another state of consciousness. Ha, ha, ha.'
I rubbed my hands with glee before I resumed.
I poked his ribs.
`Haaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggh. All right, Rob, old chap. You win. Ha, ha. Ha, ha. You win. What are you doing. Stop. Ha. Stop it. Ha. Ho. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!''
For my tickling was more merciless than before.
`Ha, ho, ho. Please. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese. old boy. No. Haaaaaaaaaagggggggh.'
`Ho, ho, ha. Haaaaaaaaaa.'
`This is for all the tickling I've had from you, and because of you, throughout my life. It's pay back day, Johnny.'
`Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Ha, ha.'
I reached beneath his sweater.
`Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, ho, ho!'
Then his shirt.
My hands were cold.
`All that tickling I have had to put up with, every day, for all these years. Think of it, Johnny. Think of it.'
`Haaaaaaaah. Ha, ha. Ha. Please, old boy. Ha. Please, I know, I plead guilty, please. Haaah.'
At that moment, I noticed that beneath the shelf devoted to Yorkshire Geography there was a length of ornamental rope, made in a nearby market town to the principles of traditional craftsmanship. It was just too convenient, I thought, and chuckled openly.
`No Rob. Ha, ha, ha. You can't,' said Uncle John, smiling in spite of himself as he watched me plotting his doom.
`You can't tie up your own uncle, can you, old chap? It's just not done. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaah!'
I continued to tickle Uncle John as I turned him over onto his stomach. Then I grabbed his hands and using an expertise I learned from years as a Boy Scout I bound them together.
`Ha. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh! Not my feet, not my feet, Rob. Haaaaaaaaaaaah!'
My uncle laughed, but only in anticipation, as I removed his brown brogues and thick green Army issue socks. His feet were large and very ticklish.
`Ho, ho, ho, ha. Ho, ho, ha. Old chap, no, please. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Oh, ho, oh, ho, ha. Stop it, you young whippersnapper or I'll -'
`Or you'll what, Johnny! I'm in the Army now, I'll do anything I please.'
`So I can see, old man. Ha. Ho. Heeeeeeeeeee. Ho. Ho. Ha, ha. Ho. What now, what, ho? Heeee. Hee! You started it, Rob, you always provoke me into tick - tick -ha, ha - ho - tickling you. Ho. Ho. Hoaaaah! Haa. Those cricket pages. I had to tickle them out of you, old chap. Ha, ha. Ho, Haaaah!'
He wriggled. Then I stopped working on his feet and as he laughed and spluttered, took the opportunity to whip off his corduroys. Uncle John blushed.
`Rob, old chap. You can't. You ca-ha-han't. You mustn't. Ha. Ha. Whatever next. Haaaaaaaaaaaah!'
Uncle John's legs were long and wiry, covered in dark hairs, handsome but faintly absurd as they flailed about in the air, naked beneath the military sweater.
`Ho, ho, ho. Haaagggggggghh! Ho, ho. What, ho? Haaaa-'
His legs were almost as ticklish as his feet. Uncle John begged, pleaded, promised.
`Ha, ha. ha. Pleeease, pleeease, ha. I won't tickle you again, old chap. Well, not today anyway. Haaaah. Just let me go, let me ha ha go. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ho. What's a chap to do when he's tickled? Ho, ha, ha. Heeeee! Heeeee!'
My uncle wore white Y-fronts. His pecker protruded, long and straight like the body to which it belonged, enticing me to wicked thoughts that had always been with me but which I suppressed as much as I could.
Ha, ha, ha, ha. Haaaaa. You can't, old chap. Ha, ha, ha.'
`Oh, yes I can, Johnny. Oh, yes I can,' I said with amused delight. Then I pulled off his Y-fronts. Uncle John gasped and laughed. His erection grew. I wondered if he could see the matching bulge beneath my trousers. For I was sure that he knew that I had always got an erection when he tickled me, just as I knew that he got one as well. My uncle and I smiled at each other, for a moment, with unspoken understanding. Then I attacked.
`Johnny,' I announced. `I am going to tickle you in a special place.'
`What? Ha, ha, ha. Ha, ha - Where? Ha, ha, ha, ho, ha, heee. Ha.'
It was a place I knew from tickling other boys at school, at which I had always excelled. Holding my uncle's pecker in my left hand, I waved the fingers of my right hand mockingly in his face then moved my index finger slowly towards the skin beneath his crotch - soft, inviting and from experience I knew, ultra-ticklish. Uncle John protested.
`Not there, old chap. Not there. Oh, ho, ho. Anywhere but there. ha. Hoooah.'
With my index finger I prodded. Uncle John was like a live wire, thrashing flailing, gasping, delirious with laughter, blurting out occasionally the words.
`Old chap, no. Ha, ha, no. Ha, ha.'
`Ha. Ha. Ha. Rob - Ha, ha. Haaaaaaaggh!'
`Diggy, diggy, diggy.'
`Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhh!Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Ha, ha-ha, haaaaa. Ha, ha, ha!'
At that moment, I became aware of two large familiar hands with the dark blue sleeves of a Royal Navy sweater. They were around my waist and pressing against my ribs.
`Ha, ha, ha! Haaaaah!' I cried out, for it was I who was now being tickled.
`Ha, ha. Haaaaaaaaaaa! Heee. You're back, Sir. Ha.'
I turned, a little sheepishly, to face my father.
`I am indeed, you young rascal, and not a moment too soon, I think.'
He laughed and prodded me in the stomach with his fingers, as was his wont. Commander Stephen Hargraves was similar in build to Uncle John, but his hair was greyer and he was not quite as tall. He had put on weight over the last couple of years, but still gave the impression of rugged health and good humoured joie de vivre. Throughout my school and university days, he watched me with pride as I played Cricket and Rugger. Afterwards we would have tea and he would tell me jokes. My interest in politics amused him. Now, as always, he smoked a pipe.
`I say, Johnny, old man,' he called to my uncle, who had staggered to his feet and was trying desperately to untie himself. `I think we'd be justified in giving this boy a tickling he'll, never, ever forget.'
The brothers smiled at each other, delighted by the prospect.
`I'm so glad you're home on leave, Rob', Uncle John said. `It means you've got five pay-back days to look forward to and I can't wait to begin!'