Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Water and String

 Next entry is here.   Scroll down to part 8.

*****Here is a cautionary warning.   Copy and paste this link into your browser to see what happens if you start messing with guitars at the age of 15!*****

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPW8IFPJzog&feature=youtu.be

Part 1

Most of my posts on this blog have been of a watery nature, but that's not all of me. Long before I'd ever set foot in a boat, I'd been aware of something that would be with me for the whole of my life (up to now). I'm talking about music.

When I was a kid there was no radio or record player in the house for quite a long time, so the only access to music was the school orchestra or the television. The school orchestra at Buckland infants school comprised of one teacher playing the piano, about five girls with recorders and the rest of the class with either castanets or triangles. I was given a triangle for a while, and then it was swapped to a school castanet (just the one). The school castanets differed from the ones that flamenco dancers have, and tourists bring back from Spain. The real ones don't have a handle!

There I was as umpteenth castanet listening to “Time and Tune” or one of the other broacdasts that were pelted at us from the Clarke and Smith school radio. We had to count and then at the right time do a quick clack on the castanet. All very interesting, and not even slightly musical. I was still interested though, and I spent the time when I wasn't clacking (which was most of it) inspecting the “musical” instrument. Then disaster struck! I missed my clack! Worse still, the teacher somehow spotted it and was stood behind me as she let loose her venom. How dare I look at the treasury tag that she'd just spent several seconds attaching the clacky bits back to the castanet with! This was a crime punishable surely by death! She certainly scared my halfway there, and I would have wet myself had I had any head of steam to do so. Result was I was summarily drummed out of the school orchestra (Or I would have been if they had any drums!).

None of this mattered though because on television that afternoon after school I saw the first of my two heroes, Wally Whyton. Along with Five o'clock Club, this guy singing with his acoustic folk guitar (which from an old photo looks to be some form of Martin) was a must. He was, though I didn't know it at the time, something of the acceptable face of the early sixties folk revival and he'd sing a number of simple traditional songs live on air. I was hooked and, though I didn't know it at the time, he was my introduction to the great Woody Guthrie. Wally was, also unbeknown to me, a well established and respected performer and had released a number of records before his stint on children's television. He was also responsible for introducing some co presenters in the form of Pussycat Willum, Fred Barker and Ollie Beak. Of course these puppets got more fan mail than him but he didn't mind. Nor did I for that matter. It was the music that got me.  
©2018 Michael Nye


Part 2 

The second of my early heroes was the sharply dressed Bert Weedon and his beautiful Hofner semi acoustic electric guitar. The twangy sound of the instrument again got my attention as he also played it live on air. This all sounded new and futuristic to my young ears and I wanted more, which came in the form of the Shadows with their close formation stage “dance” and that twangy sound again! I was hooked sufficiently to never want to be unhooked.

The final early influence on my life was the railway track that ran, on an embankment, behind the school playground. Often small steam shunting locos would run along the track pulling a few coal wagons. I never knew where they went or came from, because the sum total of my knowledge of railways was that few yards of track, and the small train set that I shared with my brother. Whenever a loco went past during school playtime the kids' including me all used to beg the driver to blow the whistle (which they usually obliged us with after sufficient commotion). Now of course they'd probably be sacked for paying us any attention, but the result then was that pretty much all of us (girls included) wanted to be engine drivers when we grew up. I was, along with the rest, desirous of that career, but I also wanted to be Bert Weedon and Wally Whyton too.   A mix of the three would come out somewhere in Joe Brown territory, and I started pestering that I wanted a guitar. I mean the five year old me really really wanted a guitar. I was nothing if not persistent in my pester power and for Christmas that year I got a shiny new.... ukulele!


Over the years I have made a good few disparaging remarks about the things but, to my five year old eyes, here was a real musical instrument. It even looked like a guitar. I can now see the logic Mum and Dad had was multi faceted. The early sixties were not a time of cheap Chinese made items, so their choices of instrument would have been somewhat limited. They could have got me a plastic toy guitar but I assume that, probably in their view, they may have thought this would be patronising even to a five year old. So, probably from Bell's music in Surbiton or Hand's in Kingston on Thames, the nice varnished wood ukulele was purchased and, when I opened the parcel, I was well pleased. That's when I made a big discovery. You have to learn to play a musical instument otherwise the sound from it is anything but musical!  
©2018 Michael Nye


Part 3

This is where Mum stepped into the breach. Despite being (self confessed) tone deaf, and as able to play the uke as me, she read through the book and offered such instruction as she could. To be fair, I did learn a few chords and could eventually plunk my way through Swannee River. At least I knew the chords, but, having never actually heard the song I couldn't do any of the rhythm or melody. There was no record player either, and certainly no Google! I felt I'd achieved something though.

When school chose to do some kind of concert (I think it may have been their rather ill fated “West Indian Jamboree”) I was asked to come in with said ukulele and do an audition. I took the box (Cardboard nicely covered with sticky backed woodgrain effect plastic) into school and showed the instrument off. I'm still rather surprised that anyone was impressed, but some were. On cue I stood up to play, and went through the chord sequence of Swannee River with no tempo, or idea of the tune. To her credit the teacher stepped in and played the melody (which I'd never heard before) on the piano. That just confused me and I stood there, played one chord and just stopped.

In the “West Indian Jamboree,” (which had nothing whatsoever to do with the area whatsoever) I played the part of the orderly in the class performance of “The King's Breakfast” by A.A. Milne. I stood on stage and eventually got to say;

“You'd better tell his majesty that many people nowadays like marmalade instead.”

Actually I think the cow was supposed to say it but I wasn't the producer or director.
©2018 Michael Nye


Part 4

 
Mum was happy with the idea that I was still a musical child. In fact, despite not letting me sing in the choir (Apparently, I had a voice like a cement mixer. Thank you to my teacher Mrs. Mason for telling me that one.) the school was of the of the opinion that I was, as Mum said, musical. If the ukulele wasn't my forte then maybe another instrument was. Somewhere someone had the bright idea that I joined the recorder band.

Now, anybody that was in primary school in the mid sixties will remember the clusters of girls walking home after school playing rounds on their recorders as they walked. In some ways it was quite nice to hear, if a little repetitive, there being only so many times you can hear “London's Burning, Frère Jacques, or London Bridge is Falling Down before you went looking for cotton wool to stuff your ears with. The main thing to a mid sixties boy was that the group was exclusively female, and there were clear demarcation lines within schools at the time. I got given a recorder but couldn't play the thing even if my life depended on it. It squeaked, the fingering was awkward and I did my best to hide the fact that I was trying to learn. In short I was crap at the thing so I was never let into the recorder group. I was still thought of as musical though. I certainly liked music, and wanted to hear more. It took a hell of a lot of campaigning before I was allowed my own radio, a 6 transistor pocket sized medium wave thing with a 2 inch speaker.

One of the oddities I remember of listening to music was that I had more or less been told that I didn't like pop music. There were not many chances (pre radio) to hear any as the only other radio in the house was owned by my granny who disliked all pop music as, in her opinion, all of these so called musicians were plagiarising the Beatles. She liked the Beatles, until they started taking drugs that is (which they promptly did). So, in the intervening period between that and the radio I got about ten minutes of Top of the Pops each week (unless there was any form of tennis on the television). I remember well things like Procol Harum with the projected Lissajous figure as a backdrop, Arthur Brown with his head on fire, and the Animals (who my granny absolutely hated) doing House of the Rising Sun. I still officially didn't like pop though, even though (when I did get a radio) I listened to the pirate radio stations, and radio Luxembourg under the sheets with a tinny earphone. I felt it better to keep the image up at school, where I was seen as weird as a result. It was worth it though as it meant I could keep listening at home. So, from then until the early seventies I became a closet pop fan.
©2018 Michael Nye


Part 5
  
In 1971, Lindisfarne released the single “Meet Me on the Corner.” Although not a true pop song, it hit number 5 in the charts and I saw it on Top of the Pops. I'd also saved my pennies and bought a Fidelity Rad 12 radio that had medium and long wave and a good deal better sound for the £9.50 I paid for it. The previous year (with some birthday money, and Christmas cash) spent £15 on a portable record player which, up until that fateful day, I used to play the selection of discarded Marble Arch easy listening records dad had given me. I can't remember the day exactly, but for me it was probably the most radical thing I'd done. I went out one lunchtime at school and actually bought “Meet Me on the Corner!” I had actually gone and bought a chart single. I played it when I got home, and there were no comments (Mainly because I kept the volume so low that nobody else heard it).

As a piece of youth rebellion, going and buying a folksy single by a relatively obscure band from Newcastle was not on a par with smoking dope and going on the hippie trail (I was still 14 remember!) but it didn't half feel good. It did two things. Firstly it opened the floodgate and I'd listen to anything. I bought ex jukebox singles, bootlegged stuff from the radio (when I bought a very cheap and tinny cassette recorder) and generally realised that it was better not to conceal that, all along, I had loved the music that my family really would prefer that I did not. The second was that it rekindled my desire to make my own music.

At the age of fifteen, another momentous event happened. I became the proud owner of a guitar. It was second hand and rather too obviously was an unwanted holiday souvenir from either Spain or Gibraltar. It was made by a company called Roca, had nylon strings an uneven fretboard and bent tuning machines. Hardly rock and roll, but this time I was going to learn to play it! My first attempt at tuning it resulted in a broken bottom E string and a rather embarrassing trip to a music shop.
“Can I have a steel string for a guitar please.” I asked.
“What gauge do you want?” the assistant asked.
“It's the lowest one,” I replied.
“But what gauge, what sort of guitar,” the assistant asked.
“It's an acoustic,” I offered.

Eventually I was sold a medium gauge steel Rotosound bottom e, which (as I remember) was a steel wrapped electric string, and about as unsuitable for the guitar as it could be.


©2018 Michael Nye



Part 6



With the help of a neighbour's piano (which was probably a bit out of tune) and a beginners guitar book I had the thing in tune. Next. My first chord. C.... then G7, then G. To be honest they weren't too bad. It took some weeks but I managed to get something.

Then came F. Aptly named for the guitar. What an absolute PIG! Try as I might I couldn't get it. It took months and, had I had any lighter fuel I might just have done a Jimmy Hendrix with the damnable thing. (I mean smashing it and setting it on fire, not actually playing it properly.) So, in the absence of means of creating fire, I persevered. After about three months I could do about three chords (G and G7 in my mind kind of count as one). I could even have a go at simple songs from the book. After six I'd bought a couple of song books (Bob Dylan and Donovan).

A year later I finally bought a proper set of nylon strings after I'd noticed that the steel string had cracked the woodwork on the bridge. After fixing it with Araldite I put the strings on and retuned the thing. The new strings made a difference, and the guitar actually sounded reasonable, but it wasn't steel strung, so it was time to save my pennies up again.

I had a habit then of spending just about every penny I had (apart from my slowly growing collection of 1971 two pence coins that sat on my bedroom windowsill) and had, at the age of sixteen, spent every one (£115) on a small boat (the story of which is elsewhere in this blog, entitled “Keeping a Bee”. Boats are a great way of ensuring a state of permanent skintness, but they have their charm. One thing that had been a nuisance was having to pay a bus fare every time I wanted to go and work on the boat, so the next purchase I decided on was a bicycle. I had just enough (£12) to get a relic of an old green Raliegh, complete with an enclosed chain and a lot of rust. Now, usually when you buy a bike, the assumption is that you can ride the thing. That was something that (even at the ripe old age of 18) I had not yet mastered. I could just about manage a straight line for about 50 yards, and it was like this that I rode home. No surprise then that the thing (and almost me) met its end on the front of a Triumph Herald about 3 weeks later. I flew over the handlebars and landed in the road by the driver's door, out of which stepped the rather annoyed driver.
“You silly boy,” she shouted. “What on earth were you doing.”
“I think I was falling off my bike,” I replied.
She wasn't too amused at the result of one of us cutting a corner and the other going wide. Surprisingly though, the bike was still rideable (despite a severely bent frame and a pedal crank that now hit the back fork of the thing). It clunked until I got to a bike shop, who bent the crank a bit and offered me a trade in which I couldn't afford there and then.

©2018 Michael Nye

Part 7 

Sadly the guitar would have to wait and I saved a bit more before returning to the bike shop.
“Remember me?” I smiled.
“Yes, we straightened your bike a bit,” the guy said.
“Is there still a trade in?” I asked.
“The cheapest new bike we have is a Hercules, but it's £30,” he replied.
With £8 trade in I rode off on the new Hercules for just £22. It was a lot nicer than the Raliegh but it did have a habit of the chain coming off once a week. Several changes of sprocket and chain eventually fixed this (under the warranty) and I did a lot of learning to ride on it. Perhaps my finest achievement was to come home with an 88 key Hohner reed organ on the handlebars. I'd always fancied playing keyboards and this plywood thing really looked nice (and it was rather cheap). It was French polished, and packed neatly into a trunk sized suitcase. I set off from Bells in Surbiton with 3 ½ stone of the thing perched on the handlebar. Mostly the run was O.K. but I was limited to straight lines only. A left turn led to severe imbalance, and a right one caused the keyboard (which only wanted to go in a straight line) to jam my thumb on the brake lever (which hurt rather a lot). The thing sounded like a maltuned harmonium powered by a low grade vacuum cleaner.

Jumping forward a moment. When talking to our local vicar some years back, Janice (my wife) and I complimented the rather nice harmonium he had in his study.
“It's actually not a true harmonium,” he replied with a knowledgeable smile. “It's actually an American organ.”

Well, one of us had to ask so it was me.
“What's the difference?” I smiled.
“Well,” the vicar said. “Harmoniums blow, and American organs suck.”
“I'm sure they aren't that bad,” Janice replied before realising she was in a vicarage.

Thankfully the vicar had a good sense of humour.

Back to the Hohner. Whether it blew or sucked, it sucked in a big way, but I learned a few bits of keyboard with it, so I guess it wasn't a total waste of cash.


After yet more saving, a visit to a second hand shop got me a rather nice looking Kay jumbo which had beautiful gold scroll work on the (Batwing style) scratch plates. It also had beautiful multi coloured veneer on the sides and back of the body. Visually then it was fine. Shame about the action and sound though, and it would have helped if someone had bothered to glue the thing together properly. In short, it was a piece of crap. I persevered though. I lowered the action, applied lots of Araldite to various bits of the body that was slowly disintegrating, stuck a pack of cotton wool and a rather plush dressing gown cord in the sound box to mellow it a bit. It did the job for a while at least. The “gold” kept rubbing off the scratchplates, so I kept adding more with Humbrol enamel paint left over from my Airfix kit building days.   ©2018 Michael Nye


Part 8

 
I was now fed up with working in an electronics factory, had done my City and Guilds and wanted to do my version of dropping out, so I became an art student. Well, I did evening classes in art and English language as a starter. It was whilst doing these that I decided to have a go at being a real student, and managed to get an interview at Epsom school of art and design for the foundation course. Feeling I'd stand a better chance if I told a couple of porkies I said I wanted to do industrial design (which I had no intention of doing.) I was pretty surprised to be accepted, and even more so to pass the O.levels in art and English. I now had enough (if I chose to) to actually get to a polytechnic after the foundation year!

At Epsom there were a few musicians (people that could play more than one chord on a battered Egmond guitar) and I soon realised both how crap I was, and how rubbish my Kay guitar was. It was around then that Eko (remember them) had adverts in the music papers (I used to buy Melody Maker) suggesting that you buy your second guitar first. I thought it a bit dumb but it had my interest. I had some cash saved from work so, yet again one Saturday, I cycled to Hands music centre in Kingston to look at guitars. My preference was for a Kimbara, but when I tried it, I really didn't like it. I tried a couple and then I was handed an Eko Navajo which was quite nice. Next came the Ranger 6. That was nice in a big way so I put my prejudices aside and tried to work out how I could afford it. I tried a Yamaha (costing 3 times as much as the Eko) as I thought, and came to the conclusion that the Eko was the better sounding instrument. After sorting out a trade in on the Hohner reed organ, and the Kay (complete with cotton wool and pyjama cord) I put a deposit down and returned with said items (thanks to my dad for the lift) and the deal was done.
Whilst Eko guitars were not really revered by anybody, I was quite happy with the thing. The action was adjustable with two stout screws on the sides of the alloy bridge mount, it had an electric style bolt on neck and it was built like a brick outhouse. Comparing it to the Kay would be a bit of an insult but I'll try anyway.

The Eko was what they Kay would have liked to be. It was about the same size, far less decorated, and had a very good sound straight out of the box. In short, it was pretty good. I later found that the top of the range Kay (which I didn't have) was made by Eko to a lower spec than their own range. The Kay version had a single piece neck made of inferior wood (the Eko had a three piece laminate neck that is beautiful to look at and easy to play. The Kay had the variety of tuners that came as three on a strip, and were a bit graunchy. The Eko ones were separate open ones and not too bad. On each count the Kay had corners cut to make a budget version of the Eko that wasn't worth buying.
I've since found out that, as well as making one instrument for Kay, Eko made the famous Vox teardrop guitars and various other items for other people.   ©2018 Michael Nye

 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Alma (copyright 2017 Michael Nye)

Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com
Part One
Scroll down for Part Twenty
(recently added)




My given name is Alma and, like all people, I came into existence as a result of human activity. I am not human though, nor even, in the minds of a lot of humans, am I alive at all. I am a little over twenty feet in length, and about four feet across the middle. I am made from tropical hardwood, and am older than any human being has so far managed to live, unless of course you include Methuselah in your list. I have spent time in the company of both good and bad people, and been treated kindly and deplorably. It is no great achievement of mine that I am still here, rather it has been either the kindness of others or their desire to exploit me for money. When you have been in existence since the spring of 1880 it cannot be any surprise that you will encounter many types of people. The family that originally gave me the name lived in a big house near the river. They wanted to be seen on the water in as stylish a manner as was possible and, to my luck, they specified that the finest materials should be used in my creation. This simple act of either ego or selflessness has been a major contributor in my longevity and whatever the motive of this family, it is my decision to be grateful for the choices they made.
I remember the day I arrived well. As I sat in the water, all pristine varnish, white cotton ropework and the best of brass fittings that shone like gold. The family thought much of me, and with Mother steering, and daughter set beside her on the large seat, Father and son set about rowing me into mid river to be seen at my best. A picnic had been packed into baskets ready for our stop at one of the islands that sit here and there in the river. The day was sunny, and I believe the daughter entered the event in her diary as being one of the times that “A good time was had by all.” My first trip had been successful and I had done my duty, which, as much as it could, pleased me. On our return I found that my home was to be a small boathouse at the end of the family garden. The place was pleasant, though an easy one for my existence to be ignored or overlooked. That summer however, I was a novelty, and several trips were taken, each with its associated picnics, each entered dutifully as good times had by all. The river then, where I was, was a pretty quiet place, with the odd barge going past carrying a cargo through the countryside. Most pleasure boats were similar to me. Small, light in weight and out on the water in large numbers when the weather was right.  
© 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode. 



Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Two



There are, when you are basically part of a hedonistic existence, periods of inactivity, such as the winter when my company was a member of the household staff who made sure I was available should the need arise, which, of course, it never did. These times are not as sad as one might expect as the river, when it enters the time that holidaymakers see as the off season has a new beauty to it. Frost on the trees, the higher current, even the floods that are not infrequent. Then comes the spring again and colourfully clad women being rowed by dapper gents who sometimes have less than honourable intentions. Such it was that one day the girl of the house, who had blossomed as the years went by, was escorted on the river in an unplanned trip, the purpose of which she was fully complicit in. The afternoon was quiet in the early spring, a time that the season had not got fully under way and the beau, though I would not call him that, had rowed some way deciding that, under the shelter of some willows that grew on an island backwater, it was time to claim what he saw as his own. The fool had not thought that, in the early spring, the soil would be, due to recent flooding, quite muddy, so that an assignation beneath the trees on dry land was out of the question. His decision to have his way whilst afloat was something of a mistake too as both parties soon found out. Things went well for them at first, but the movement caused the mooring line to dislodge, and we slowly drifted together into the main river. The realisation that the daughter of the house could now clearly see the sky brought forth panic from both occupants and their further movements were simply too much as I pitched sideways and landed two partially clad, and no longer respectable, people into the cold water of the river, nearly sinking myself in the process. Various explanations were given, mainly that the clothing was impeding the ability to swim, and these were only marginally accepted by the family who banished the blaggard from the house, an arrangement that was adhered to until the following summer when the couple eloped to Gretna Green. My part in the sad affair was not really noted, though for the rest of that summer, I was left to myself in the boathouse.

After the eloping of their daughter, the family lost all interest in the property and it was sold, along with a lot of its contents, to another family who were somewhat more progressive in their thinking. They were not generally received well in the local community, their money being rather too new for most people's tastes. Worse that that, they made a show of having it, purchasing not one, but two cars, and a steam launch. For the first of many times in my life, I was redundant and, in order to make space for me, I was unceremoniously lifted from the water and put at the back of one of the large garden sheds. © 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode.

Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Three

It was a peaceful existence for the next two years and, though I was continually threatened with the indignity of being turned into a quaint garden feature by being filled with soil and used as a flower bed. Thankfully the gardener thought this was in hideously poor taste, and deliberately never got around to doing the job until one day he was ordered to, on pain of being sacked. I remember well that he actually apologised to me for what he was about to do. I was taken from my place at the back of the shed, polished up, and paraded around the garden until the lady of the house deemed I was suitably located. The gardener marked the spot and I was again put back in the shed whilst a carpenter was contacted to build a suitable cradle for me to sit in. The man was about to deliver the finished work when two men called at the house to arrange the day of the auction of both it, and all its contents due to the bankruptcy of the owners. That was it! I was free of the horrible fate that I thought was mine. Being filled with soil would have caused rot to set in very quickly and I would have been ruined. A pleasant feature in a forgotten garden that two years later would very likely have seen me burned on a bonfire.
The day of the auction came, and the steam launch attracted a lot of interest, being bought by a wealthy couple who intended to take it by train to the north as a pleasure boat on one of the lakes. I was bought by a hirer of small boats a short way down the river. I felt like I'd been sold into some kind of white slavery. Though I'd see a lot more of the river, I knew that hired boats, let out by the hour were, like me, bought cheaply and worked hard. Thankfully I was still in pristine condition (albeit under a goodly layer of dust) and commanded a slightly higher price than the less fortunate vessels. All the time though, I could see my fate. Peeling varnish, scraped woodwork, dulled brass. This was all coming my way.   © 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode.


Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Four


There are people who think boats have a soul, and those who see them as simple assemblies of wood and metal. I have known several people who choose to talk to me, one being the gardener of my second owner, who was a kind person. Whatever your personal view is, I can say that my time as a hire boat was not either without event or enjoyment. It would be akin to living alone, or a sort of communal lifestyle. I was not unhappy in the boathouse, or even in the shed, but I did enjoy my days on the river in the company of others of my kind. Here I was then, in a crowd, left out in the open to be propelled on the river by whomsoever chose to do so.
One occasion that I remember well was the time that an unfortunate person fell into the river. She was clearly, by the way she was dressed, the daughter of a farm worker and had been enjoying a pleasant stroll along the far bank when, for whatever reason, she was pushed in, and had hit her head on the way down. There she was, floating in the water, and would have found her way to the weir and certain death, had the lad that looks after the boats not spotted her. Summoning two of the older men that worked in the workshop he suggested that I, as the swiftest boat they had (most of their craft only having one rowing position available) be used to rescue the poor unfortunate. I moved faster on that day than I have ever done, and, with the lad steering, the girl was pulled from the river and, coughing some water, she was revived by the two men, and rowed back to safety. Once unloaded, the elder of the two rowers set off to the local inn to purchase a quantity of brandy, calling at his home to bring his wife so that the girl could be looked after by someone of her own sex. There was much fuss that I was not party to, but there were two things that happened that were directly attributable to that incident. The first was that the girl, Mary Williams, took something of a shine to the younger of the two rowers, and he to her. They were married within the year, and I was borrowed for a brief holiday that they took on the river.   © 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode. 

Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Five

 
The owners of the boatyard were kind people, and the story of the rescue of Mary had, when reported, resulted in an increase in business for them. The second thing was that their rivalry with another yard close by resulted in a challenge. As a swift craft, and with a regatta upcoming, the arrangement was made to stage a race between myself and the best that the other yard could offer. Wagers were made and my obvious crew, the team that rescued Mary, were allowed time to prepare both themselves and me for the big event. I was carefully taken up the rollers and into the work shed, where I was sandpapered, and re-varnished, with all my brass-work polished to its original shine. By the time they'd finished with me, I probably looked better than the day I was delivered to my first owners.
The regatta course was a few miles up-river, and to protect my looks, and freshly waxed underside, I was loaded onto a barge that was carrying a cargo in that direction. My two oarsmen, the lad, and Mary were each allowed to have train tickets, and a room at one of the better inns so that they were ready for the big day. The owners of the yard travelled up for the event, and promised to make sure Mary would get a good and safe view of her husband of less than a year as he helped propel me to what they felt was a certain victory. I definitely felt the part, with all my brasswork shining in the sun, new white cotton ropes, freshly varnished and waxed oars, and a neat pennant embroidered by Mary on my bow. The craft fielded by our rivals was newer and sleeker than me, having been paid for by someone with a vested interest in winning the bet. This was not seen as particularly sporting, and their newly drafted crew, two university students, added to the feeling that we may, or very likely would, lose. I remember my crew saying they would give their best, and that the co-opting of people that didn't know which way up to hold a spokeshave wasn't in the spirit of things. There we were though, with a measured mile ahead of us, something of a sideshow, though due to the rescue of poor Mary (who by all counts hadn't done too badly from her encounter) we had attracted rather more interest that we otherwise would have. © 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode. 


Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Six


Teamwork can be a great thing however, and as we lined up at the start I did wonder to what degree the opposition actually were a team. The boat was certainly newer, and probably of a better design, though I would never hold that against her. The crew, I felt maybe had decided rather too firmly that the win was theirs, and all they had to do was row quickly, like they had done in the single skulls. Their cox, or steerer (We chose to call our lad the helmsman) was a petulant little brat of indeterminate years chosen presumably for his lightness, and certainly not for his personality. He had assumed the role of captain, commander in chief, and admiral of the fleet. Had it not been treason to do so I am sure he may have laid claim to the throne as well. As silence fell before the starting pistol was fired, I heard Mary's husband say that we'd “Row like buggery.” and for the lad to do his best to keep us straight.
There was a bang, and indeed they rowed as they said. I was moving at a far greater pace than I had since the rescue of Mary, and was soon even eclipsing that speed. The competitors got off quicker than us due to their lighter weight, but the barking of contradictory orders from the cox, who seemed to know absolutely nothing, soon began to take its toll. Eventually one of the crew said something that I would rather not repeat, and the cox fell silent. For our part, the lad steering kept us straight, and had taken to tapping his foot to keep the oarsmen in time. The sound, though scarcely audible, was enough to keep everything going smoothly and, with pennant flying from the short mast on the bow, we kept cutting though the water. The problem was that the newer craft cut through it rather better than we did and were again about half a length ahead of us. Our two crewmen signalled to our helmsman that they had more in them, and he responded by slowly increasing the pace of his foot tapping. I could feel that they were giving everything to the task, and we slowly started gaining. By comparison to our neat rowing, there was quite a lot of splashing from the other crew, and they even clashed their oars in an uncoordinated attempt to row quicker. Seeing this, our helmsman again slowly increased his speed of tapping and, for the first time we inched ahead with a few hundred yards left of the course. Another clash of oars from our competitors saw clear water between the boats, though only a couple of feet of it. On realisation of this, the crew managed to get back into an even rhythm and were gaining on us, albeit slowly.
When we did cross the line, there was less than six inches of clear water between myself and the competing craft, but we were ahead! We had won, and our perspiring crew were greeted as the heroes they were by the owners of the yard, and the organisers of the regatta. Mary, of course had a far greater preference for one member of the crew, but that was to be expected. Though no prizes, other than a trophy, were given, much ale was paid for by the management, and Mary saw to it that her husband had plenty to celebrate. Nine months later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy whom they named Albert. It is said there was an obvious royal connection to their choice but I like to think about the similarity to my given name. The crew of our competitors, so I understand, were not so sporting as to accept defeat too magnanimously. They shook the hands of my crew briefly, then left, being taken into police custody some time later after their instigation of a pub brawl that started with them arguing amongst themselves.  © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Seven
After the regatta my status was somewhat changed. I was now not a mere hire boat, though there is no shame in being one. As the winner of the regatta race, one for which a re-match was arranged for the next year, I was kept in the best of condition and only loaned to some of the more discerning of people. I'm not exactly sure how the discerning people were selected, but some of them weren't pleasant at all and, had I the power to do so, I'd have happily pitched them into the river. Good clothes and money are no substitute for kindness and an empathy with the environment you are in, and, whilst some were happy to paddle off to a backwater get drunk and paddle back, leaving their bottles and litter behind, there were others who were content to amble along the river, taking in the sights and sounds as they presented themselves. One of these regulars was an artist. He wasn't well dressed, but was known to the proprietors of the yard, and they were happy to rent me to him. Every now and then he would arrive with his paraphernalia, which was stowed neatly, and a model, who was generally the same person, who would steer. He would arrive early and return just before dusk, with sketches and completed works that would eventually find themselves on sale in some of the local shops that dealt with the ever growing tourist trade. His works were not what some would call great art, but they were pleasing to see. I featured in quite a few of them, one I remember involved the appearance of me floating free in the water, with the model sat sunning herself on the seat. Attempts had been made on getting the scene correct on several occasions, but these were often marred by wind or bad light. Then one day, after a period of rain which had increased the flow of the river significantly, he toiled upstream to one of the many islands. The weather had returned to calmness and bright sun. Once on the island the model posed on my seat and I was let out on a long line downstream. The lack of wind, and the increased flow allowed me to stay in the place that the artist chose, and with very small movements, the model was able to keep my position as lined up by two canes that the artist had tapped into the ground alongside him. The resultant work was one of his best, and was eventually purchased by a family that lives some miles away and had come to the area by rail for a holiday.
For the following three years, I was rowed to successive victories in the regatta after which the rival team rather lost interest, as did members of the public. I again became a hired boat, and remained as such for well over a decade by which time I looked much like the others of the fleet. Weathered timber, broken fittings and dull metalwork. It wasn't as bad a time as it seemed, as I enjoyed sharing the pleasure of the river with each family or couple that hired me. Several of them came back more than once in a holiday, others hired me for short camping trips, each of which had its charm and I have many fond memories of that period. © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Eight

In a life as long as mine it would be surprising if I went through it unscathed. I had many scrapes, most of which were insignificant, but two incidents stick in whatever you would call my mind. One year, not long after I had been retired from the hiring business due to ill repair, I was sitting on the slipway on the night when the river rose to what seemed unprecedented levels. Given that I was on land, I had not been secured, so, as soon as I floated free I was taken by the swift current downstream for a good distance before having the good fortune the become entangled in the branches of a a very large weeping willow that was now partially submerged. The waters stayed high for some time, but eventually subsided, allowing the owners of the yard to return and assess any damage. The fact that I was missing wasn't something that worried them due to my now being nothing but a piece of clutter that was due to be scrapped anyway. I'd languished hidden in the tree until the haymaking time of the late summer the following year when I was discovered by a courting couple. Their finding me did somewhat distract them from the original purpose of their visit as both set about freeing me from the entanglement of the foliage, after which I was loaded onto one of the carts and taken back to the barn as something that may come in useful at some time.
I lived in the barn for over a decade, and saw the courting couple married and running the farm before I was again discovered when one of the new farm dogs, a border collie pup, went missing and somehow got himself lodged in a nook near me. The summer was pleasant enough and the father of the house who, having passed most of the business on to his son, was looking for something interesting to do. In my state of glorious dilapidation, he recognised the name. He had placed a wager on me many years previously and won a handsome sum when I won that first race. I was taken to an outbuilding that had the room and over the space of two years the man set about reversing any damage that had been done to me by hirers, the flood and a good part of a year in a weeping willow. My planking was carefully inspected, various pieces of brass removed for cleaning, and all the varnish was scraped and sanded back to the original wood. By the time he'd finished, I again looked as good as I ever had done. A set of four oars were purchased second-hand from a local boatyard, and it was time again for me to return to the water. The day was beautiful and the labour of love that I appeared to be was given to the courting couple (now married with two young children) to be taken on what was regarded as a maiden voyage. Again a picnic was packed, Mother steered, son and daughter sat either side of her whilst Father and Grandfather propelled me at a decent pace upriver.
All felt new, though I was in the summer of my fortieth year. Many boats like me had gone, but plenty had survived, and we enjoyed the day together. For myself, I liked being on the water again, I of course enjoyed my being owned by people that cared and genuinely had a feel for their surroundings. The family were pleasant people, easy going by nature, and if it were possible I'd have smiled on that day. It was good too to see some of my former stable-mates out on the water being piloted with various degrees of ineptitude by their hirers. © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Nine

 
During the day I heard much talk of the awfulness that was “The War.” I'd heard nothing of it before, having spent the time behind mounds of hay bales and suchlike. Nobody saw fit to tell me of the four years of madness that swept across humanity sending so many young men to unnecessary death in the trenches. Why would they? After all I am nothing more than a collection of pieces of wood held together by glue and rivets. I still felt pangs of guilt that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop such a horrible waste of life from happening. I was created for enjoyment of the river, and nothing more. The scrollwork on my large back seat gives this away clearly. I was never destined to be a work boat of any kind though somehow I know that, as well as the lighters, barges and other craft, far more fearful vessels have been constructed. They were armed with guns and set to destroy life and each other in order to settle disputes that people could not resolve amicably. It is always the case, it seems, that others pay the price for the mistakes of those that set themselves above, and see themselves fit to rule. As a construction of planks I had existed for four decades, but those planks were made from a tree that was over a century old. It was taken from a tropical country, itself taken by the might of military force. The wood was shipped across to a port in this country. It was cut into planks and eventually part of that tree became me. As a tree I could well have seen some of the atrocities that were committed in the name of “Civilisation” that was no more than empire building on a grand scale. As a tree, and a source of timber I could well, no doubt, have been fashioned into a different kind of craft and spent a different life to the one I have. I was built as I was, I had no control over that and I have survived thus far as a result of my own good fortune. Maybe at times I do have bouts of gazing into my own non-existent belly button in search of reason, but they seldom last long, and it was a bright day. The war had been over for some time, and the music from the wind-up gramophone brightened the afternoon as the picnic was set near to where I was moored. 
© 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com
 Part Ten
  
 
The time that I was now a part of was bright and hopeful. I think a lot of people were of a mind to believe that they had seen the last of this kind of bloodshed, and came to regard the conflict as being a war to end all wars. Given that I am made of timber which sees so many things happening the residue of which exists in the growth rings of the tree, I maybe had a different perspective on the situation though nobody has asked my opinion, which of course I don't have because I am a twenty foot long skiff. Moods changed though, and there was talk of trouble ahead. I'd heard snippets that it would again all be over very quickly. I think Christmas was suggested for the previous four year conflict. The next turmoil lasted a deal longer and, with the seemingly unstoppable motion of progress, better machines had been invented that could destroy more efficiently and at a longer range. I returned to the back of the barn where I languished for another five years or more. This time though, I was far more aware of the troubles that touched everybody. Aeroplanes flew over the barn from the nearby airfield. Others flew towards it in a vain attempt to destroy it. Madness seemed to be everywhere.
One night, I remember a crashing sound, as though a tree had fallen onto the barn that housed me. Then there was flame, not of the sort caused by a discarded cigarette that starts slowly. This began straight after the crash and was violent in its appearance and rapid in its spread. We were lucky to have an irrigation pump and it was this that saved the day. A pipe was dropped into the river, and the pump set into motion. The usual slow plod of the single cylinder petrol motor was pushed to a violent knocking sound as the last bit of power was pulled from it. The pertol tanks of the farmer's car and the farm tractor were siphoned to keep the pump working. Eventually a fire appliance arrived and took the job over, extinguishing the flames that the people at the farm had successfully contained. The barn was badly damaged, but could be saved, and over the weeks, much scrap material was dragged from storage to make good the structure so that it would be ready for the harvest. It was during this time, not long after one of the major air battles, that I was found at the back of the building. I was dusted off, and the idea came to show the enemy that our spirit was not broken. I was put into the water, and rowed downstream for a picnic. The fare was more meagre than before, but it was a good day all the same, or it would have been had just one enemy aircraft not seen us on the move. With us being in mid river, on our return, the air raid siren meant that all we could do was to head for a clump of trees on an island that was a few hundred yards away. The plane, either off course, or damaged crossed the river at a lower height than it should. Low enough for us to be clearly spotted, and spotted we were. After having time to turn, he was back, and we were sitting ducks to a hail of machine gun fire. We were also closing rapidly with the island and a kind of refuge. His second run saw him come closer to target and two bullets hit us. One took a chunk out of one of the oars, but the other caught one of the oarsmen and also holed me just below the waterline. We reached the island, and again I was let out on a long leash, filled with a few items of spare clothing and I slowly sank, spreading my contents on the water as the wounded oarsman was attended. The airman, on his third pass, seemed satisfied that the family had probably been shot and killed, either that or he was short of fuel and didn't wish to land in the sea. Whatever, the all clear was sounded, and I was slowly pulled back to the island where, after about an hour, I was dragged ashore. The offending bullet had gone straight through a plank, splintering it a bit and of course making the hole that sank me. Three pairs of socks were sufficient to form a suitable plug for me, and a torn petticoat made a temporary repair for the poor oarsman. We both leaked a little but, with nobody badly injured, a small cake tin was used to bail, and we all got back to the relative safety of the farm, where I was stashed in the barn for later repair.    © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Eleven

There I stayed for another ten years, at which point the barn was cleared, and I was sold to a local man who wanted to use me as a fishing boat. I think the idea was that he was a would be poacher. The hole was patched rather poorly, and I was painted black all over. I said he was a would be poacher because he was caught on his first sortie. I was left loosely tied at the side of the river and went unnoticed when the man was apprehended. After a week I gently slipped my mooring and, half full of water, I drifted slowly down the river and, had I done this at night, would have broken up on one of the weirs. It was a sunny day, and I was spotted by one of the workers at a local yard who, with a new motor launch, towed me back to the place, where I spent a few years as a hired boat. Instead of cleaning off the black paint to reveal my my original name, which had been covered by the poacher, I was called “River Maiden” and painted bright yellow. I felt that I looked like a floating banana! The livery didn't do much for my prestige, and I was hired to pretty much anybody. After all I'd cost nothing so there was no real investment to protect. Several couples managed to do what threw the daughter of my original original owner into the river, after which I was generally rowed in an erratic manner back to the yard, where I was scraped along the concrete edging to the river as the “lovers” disembarked. I managed to survive hitting almost all of the bridges on the stretch of water that was my home, either as a result of terminal ineptitude or drunken stupor on the part of those in charge of me for whichever hour I was working.
Whilst debilitating, hard use wasn't going to see an end to me, of that I was determined, though at any time I could have been retired against my will and broken up. No, the thing that has done the most damage, is a plastic compound. Epoxy resin, and glass fibres could be made into all sorts of shapes, including boat hulls! These started to appear in small numbers in my middle years but have since blossomed to be the standard for most people, apart that is on the canals where steel is the favoured material. I have nothing against either really, but the existence of a plastic hull that needed very little maintenance was popular with anybody hiring boats. Much more so when the prices started to drop. I continued life as a hire boat though for some time, eventually losing my bright yellow livery to a disgusting green that I can only imagine was bought as some kind of job lot. Every surface at the yard, and all the boats were daubed with the same offence to eyesight. I was hit on several more bridges, other boats and sundry items, copulated upon and vomited in until one day at the beginning of the season I was judged as just too shabby when compared to the new fibreglass motor boats they had just taken delivery of.    © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Twelve

 
Another period of dormancy in the yard shed followed after which, in a year of great optimism for the nation, I was auctioned in a sale of sundry items and bought by a lady who wanted me as a display stand for potted plants in her garden which bordered the river. Humiliation had finally come my way, I was a blasted pot stand and at the time would far rather have been firewood. I spent what was possibly the worst summer of my existence sitting on a couple of overly ornate wrought iron cradles whilst being stuffed with prize geraniums, roses and other crap (yes there were even garden gnomes!). I secretly prayed for a flood to take me away from it all and sweep me over a weir.
That winter, it started raining, and it continued seemingly endlessly to do so until the flood I had prayed for lifted me from my cradle and took me, floating low in the water, still further down the river. I may well have gone over a weir, though I think I'd have sustained rather more major damage if I had have done. When the waters did recede I found myself in a small area of waste ground where some particularly rough looking youths looked like they were going to finish me off for good and all. Whilst the devil may well make work for idle hands, he obviously can't swim, and had stayed well clear of this group who, deciding that finders were keepers, upended me and tipped the debris of my time as a pot stand onto the land. After this they picked me up to take me to a shed where they spent some time, rather ineptly, restoring me. Green and yellow paint were scraped and sanded, to be replaced by far too much of a kind of varnish that I later learned was destined for the electronics industry to impregnate mains transformers. It's slightly reddish tinge of brown wasn't unpleasant and, when suitably refurbished I was renamed “Water Scout V.” I have to say I became quite fond of my rescuers and was willing to forgive any damage they did to me. After all they knew no better, and were full to the brim with enthusiasm. My original oars were now long gone, and there was some debate as to how to obtain a set. A lot of time passed until one day an ill matched pair of oars, that I'd have been ashamed to be seen with in different times, arrived with one of the lads. They had been found propping the roof of an allotment shed, and purchased from their owner for a few shillings. Quite what props it up now is something I often wonder about, and also something I'll probably never know. I remember well though the day I was re-launched in my new livery, and bearing the new name. The lads spent a lot of time that summer, and the one after enjoying being out and about, with the extra kudos of being boat owners. The local Boy Scouts had tried at first to recruit them and, having failed, took to making complaints and generally hindering them at every possible chance. Eventually the police were called and, as ownership was not provable I was confiscated and stored at the local police station until further notice.
That notice came when a new member of staff who had various stripes and other insignia on his dress uniform, decided that I would make a good little boat on which he could spend weekends fishing. I was dispatched to another department where I was re-varnished (on top of the transformer lacquer) with something that most of the station woodwork was covered in. This gave my hull a rich dark colour that was nothing like the original, but was deemed splendid by my new owner. I say owner here rather loosely. That the lads had no real claim to me is true, but had they not intervened I'd have been cleared up with all the other debris from the flood and dumped. This person had plucked me from storage after I had been taken from people who I was fond of, and given a coat of varnish that, unlike the transformer lacquer, was definitely not supposed to be used for a private project. Now I was “Lady Jenny” a name I have always hated. I was loaded with fishing tackle and, well, the guy was no trawlerman. I can't remember him landing so much as a minnow in the three summers he worked in the area, after which I was put back into police storage until I was again auctioned with a pile of useless junk.   © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Thirteen

It goes without saying that I have never seen any of the output of any film studio. Who, after all, would let a boat into a cinema even if it did have tickets! As “Lady Jenny” though, my next stint of activity was to be in the hands of a small film production company. I have to say that I did quite enjoy that time, though as a prop, I never really did much that was too distinguished. My first role was for an advertisement for chocolate. This involved me being taken off to a weed infested part of a disused canal that still had water in it. The journey there was on an ill fitting trailer, with several stops being made to make sure I hadn't dropped off the back. Once we had arrived, I was surprised to find that the area they had selected was pretty wide, more of a lake really. On one side there were the hulks of two derelict narrowboats which the crew spent a couple of hours covering with camouflage netting and various bits of vegetation. I felt that it looked more like a salad than scenery but who am I to comment. With everything set up I was pushed into mid stream with a scantily clad Elizabeth Siddal lookalike who proceeded to stuff her face with chocolate whilst they filmed her. Given the time limitation she had been given a whole box of the stuff that had been secreted under the seat so that she wouldn't have to be dragged back between takes with the long and rather tatty rope that secured me to the bank. Now I don't know much about the Pre-Raphaelites, but they did favour the pale “English rose” as a model of female beauty. My charge certainly had that look, but she took a long time to satisfy the crew with their image of a mix of desire for chocolate and mild eroticism. I think she had eaten most of the box by the time the advert was “In the can” as these people say. The original idea was that she should spit the mouthful into the canal as each shot was completed, but this started to attract ducks, so it was decided that she had to actually eat it. By the final shot she had the colour that would have melted the hearts of the whole Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. This was when disaster struck. The line that was there to pull her in to the bank snagged on an underwater obstruction. Worse than that, it broke when pulled harder. Still worse, the only serviceable boat on the scene was me. Miss Siddal's stand in may have looked the epitome of purity, but she certainly possessed a foul mouth, and I will not repeat what she called the film crew before she was rather violently sick into the canal. After an hour, a small dinghy was borrowed, and a rescue was carried out. Once back in the van the star of the advert had some special words, mostly obscene, to say to the person who forgot to bring a set of oars.   © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Fourteen

My next adventure in film was scarcely more distinguished. A manufacturer that saw a business opportunity for high grade dog foods had decided that they should do a double take on the ancient Egyptian worship of cats. The film was to be split into two parts, and I was to be decorated as a state barge. The first part was to have the barge (me) with two cats sitting haughtily on the back seat as the dogs appeared to row. The second scene was designed to have the dogs and cats transposed. For the commercial much expense was spared. I was decorated with some discontinued dado wallpaper that, though ornate, was made (as its name implies) of paper. To add to the ornate look parts of me were gilded with a substitute for gold leaf, which was basically coloured aluminium foil. I have to admit that, given their limited resources, the film company made a reasonable job. I was set to be towed across a shallow pond by a length of fishing line with the cats and dogs assuming their roles.
Now I may only be a less than elaborate arrangement of wood and rivets, but even I know that dogs and cats have never really hit it off as best friends, so the first few takes saw an animal brawl being towed across the shot. By take three, the cats had abandoned ship and swam for it, leaving the dogs with little else but copulation for their entertainment. The situation, becoming desperate, required desperate measures so, in the spirit of the times all the animal actors were fed on their favourite food, which had been generously laced with something (that was not tobacco) that the film crew had hoped to smoke after the job was done. The next three takes saw the cats become ever more drowsy, ending up as no more than a pile of fur on the seat, and even the dogs tiring of the slaking of their lust. One did attempt to make advances to a rather stoned kitty, but was met with drawn claws, which he accepted with as good a grace as he could summon. Throughout the shooting, my decorations (which were stuck on with wallpaper paste) had become ever more soggy and by the end were forming a trail behind me as I was repeatedly dragged across the wretched pond with my cargo of stoned fur and blubber. If I possessed a voice I, by the end of proceedings, would have chosen to use it to utter similar words to the starlet that appeared in the chocolate advert.
I assume that the film shot on that day made somewhat unsatisfactory viewing as, the following weekend, I was taken back to the pond. In the meantime the company, after salvaging what they could of the original footage, had paid a visit to the local taxidermist and hired stuffed animals of similar appearance as stand ins for some of the shots. I doubt that they'd have done a quick job with some sage and onion and the stoned mutts and kittys from the week before. To be truthful, by that time I'd have gladly paid for the film crew to receive the same treatment. The shooting went ahead and I was dragged across the pond about twenty times before my state barge decorations turned to papier-mache and fell off. It was a wrap, as they said, placing me and my morbid cargo onto the trailer and heading off at rather too high a speed through the lanes to get the stuffed props back to the taxidermist to avoid paying another days rental. They'd learned their lesson though, at least in part, so I was well secured to the trailer and therefore in no danger of breaking free. The same could not be said of my cargo of rather moth-eaten felines and canines who spent the journey sloshing around on my bottom boards along with a little bilgewater, and such parts of the wallpaper as could be recovered. Eventually, on a bend with a rather deceptive layby that was hidden by bushes, the inevitable happened and the mass of deceased animal, straw, bilgewater and puréed wallpaper rolled across the widest part of me, up the side, and out, disappearing over the bushes, unseen by the film crew. On arrival at the taxidermist, who was quite a large man with several tattoos, a sum of far more than the animals were worth was paid to avoid any unpleasantness. I've often wondered what the courting couple that I'd spotted thought as, mid clinch, in their open top sports car, they were bombarded with a hail of soggy, long dead stuffed animals.   © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Fifteen

After a few more commercial shootings, the small film company were somewhat strapped for cash, and accepted any money offered to them. Thus came my minor claim to fame when an historical drama was being made by a much larger company. I was to play the part of a rowing boat that took some prospective courtiers across to meet their monarch. The fact that I am the wrong kind of craft for this kind of work (my design dating from two to three hundred years later) was overlooked and I was rather roughly sanded and varnished so that I looked the part. The scene was shot in two takes as I ferried two actresses, dressed in all their finery, across the river, piloted by an extra that was dressed in what they deemed a boatman of the time would be wearing. That was it. I got a new coat of varnish and found out later that, although the film was a disastrous flop, one of the two women went on to a very distinguished career in cinema, winning several awards along the way. Again I sometimes wonder if she ever remembers her first role, being rowed across a river in the dusk, on an old, mis-named, and historically inappropriate skiff.
Suffice to say the film company that owned me went bankrupt soon afterwards and I was again sold at auction along with another load of junk which included several metal pontoon like craft that were to have been used for a wartime drama that never happened. The lot was bought by a company that were based on a small industrial estate, who has seen the value of these ex bridging pontoons for the emergent do-it-yourself canal enthusiasts who wanted to get afloat for as little money as possible. These sold well, but nobody really wanted a battered wooden skiff, and I had the embarrassment of being given away for nothing with the last of the pontoons, so that the owner could row across to an old wharf where he could work on his pride and joy. With each trip, various pieces of woodwork were taken across and assembled onto the pontoon in what looked like a random fashion, though I dare say there must have been some logic to it all. As it approached completion I could see that the reclaimed materials that were being used only fitted in a certain way, like an anarchic jigsaw of styles, resulting in an appearance that, though strange, was quite pleasing. On completion, I wished the little craft well in her new life, though I doubted I'd ever see her again and was towed back across the river before the owner and his family set off on holiday in their strange looking, and even more strangely named craft. Having served my purpose I was sold via the small ads of a local paper, after which I spent a few years at the bottom of a garden, before being taken to a local boatyard where the family had decided I should have work done on me. I was, however, pretty much abandoned there, and sat on blocks alongside one of the sheds for a long time. It wasn't unpleasant though, as the comings and goings of a boatyard are interesting in their own right.  © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Sixteen



One of my clearest and fondest memories of the time was when a small girl took a liking to me. Her parents often visited by water and whilst liking the lifestyle the girl, as youngsters often do, wanted to wander. Boatyards are far from safe places especially for small children, whether or not they can swim, and it was one of the long standing craftsmen that kept an eye on her as she explored. Eventually she came across me sat neatly where I'd been left and, after walking around several times, tried climbing aboard. This was the cue for the man to intervene. He never spoke sharply, but simply was there, asking her if she minded him lifting her aboard. The smile he got as a reply needed no words and the young lady took up her position on my ornate back seat to think her thoughts. Far from being a one off, this was repeated many times over several years. I watched her grow from the pre-school age of that first day through to adulthood. I soon got the impression that this was a deep thinker who lacked confidence to allow her true self to the surface. There was nothing I could say (I'm made of wood and can't therefore speak) but I was always happy to provide her with a seat to sit and think upon and she seemed to accept my unspoken offer with good grace. Often, whilst sitting, she would become absorbed in drawing or working on watercolour sketches. This made me think back to my early days when the daughter of the household would sit, before the picnic was served, on the same seat and also draw.
So much of my life is nuance, the spotting of the little things that people, in their world of noisy communication, often miss completely. It's sometimes wrong to compare things and people, but I find myself unable not to. Back in my first years the sketches, though competent, were no more than a pastime. She liked to draw but it meant nothing to her and this came across to me in the movements she made and time she spent working. One who is not totally absorbed in what they are doing will fidget, they will be easily distracted, and will not mind leaving a work at an unfinished stage, never to reach completion. Several decades later, this new daughter with her slightly timid nature, was vastly different. Timid she was, but that hid a fire in her soul. There was passion about her, and she would become so absorbed in what she was doing that time passed without her noticing. She could work both calmly and frantically but it was an unwise person that tried distracting her. There were many days that her parents simply allowed her to complete the task she'd set herself, no doubt causing the family to be late for whatever they'd got planned next. They were understanding though and, whilst not spoiling the girl, were happy to give her space to work things out for herself.    
© 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Seventeen


 


I said earlier that I saw the girl grow until early adulthood, which is true. Her visits became infrequent in these later years, and eventually dwindled to the point that I thought I'd seen the last of her. There followed a period of idleness for me which was broken by what I saw as another tidying up session before I'd either be sold or used for hire again. The decision had been made to take every coat of paint and varnish off until bare wood was reached. Having paint, varnish, and those wretched (and by now illegible) name boards removed was not an unpleasant experience. With each layer I felt a bit better, much like a sheep having the winter coat of wool removed. These layers were like memories in some way, but they were also baggage from the bad times and I was glad to see them gone. After a week, there was nothing but the bare wood to be seen. I was naked and every scar I had was on show. I waited as I was walked around and gently prodded at, hearing muttering and seeing either frowns or smiles as the very thorough inspection continued. The plank that had been replaced where I'd been holed was in good condition and made of very similar wood to the rest of me. Some of my metal work was in a rather poor state but most was recoverable, and I began to look forward to being my former self. Maybe I would be sold to someone wealthy who would maintain me properly, but then the chance was that I could just as easily find myself in the care of someone that didn't care at all. The work continued though, and I began to feel better and better. I was more than happy when my original name was discovered, carved into the woodwork of my bows and stern in beautiful sinuous lettering that had, when I was first built, been picked out in real gold leaf. I was, as I have always been, Alma and if it were possible for me to do so, I'd have smiled.
My restoration took several months, being done whenever time permitted, and seemed to be being carried out with such attention to detail that surely no profit could be made when I was eventually sold. I began to wonder what purpose this meticulous work served, other than to occupy the restorers who were thoroughly enjoying themselves as they sanded, varnished and generally spruced. I was happy that I was going to look my best again after over a century of being in existence.  
© 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode.

Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Eighteen



 
One morning, as the newly applied gold leaf of my restored lettering caught the sun, I was carefully lifted onto the back of a truck and secured firmly, with much padding, before I was driven away from the yard where I'd enjoyed many summers. Clearly I'd been sold, but to whom I had no idea. The truck left the motorway and trundled through the lanes after which I was carefully unloaded and placed in a barn, where a ribbon was tied in a rather fetching bow across my back seat. Two more were tied to the two sets of antique oars, that were a very close match to the first ones I was paired with, and then I was left to my own devices in the dark. What on earth was all this fuss about? I hadn't the first clue, but I felt that it was something of a major change in my life. Ever since that day in 1880 my general condition had worsened with each change of ownership. Here I was though, in the dark, and looking as good as, if not better than, that first day when I was put in the water.
The following morning I knew something was afoot. Preparations for something I knew nothing about had been ongoing for some time, but the level of activity had increased to almost fever pitch. I still hadn't a clue, until some hours later, when the barn doors were opened and I was greeted by a face I knew well. The girl who used to sit on the shabby and unloved me, the only person that properly felt something for me, came in to the barn, dressed in white and accompanied by a young man who, by then I'd worked out, was her husband of a little over an hour. I was a wedding present, and she seemed as pleased to see me as she was about her new status as a married woman. I had experienced many things over my century on the planet but in all that time nobody had ever kissed me. She was the first and, so far, the only person to do so. For my part I was glad to see that the little girl that had befriended me years previously had found what looked to be her ideal partner. Both were radiantly happy, though each also had that slight distance to their expression that told me there were unresolved issues in their lives. I felt sure that they were more than capable of supporting each other though, and I would now be there to give them respite from the real world on quiet afternoons when all they felt like was spending time together on the water. It is, after all, my reason to exist. I am a boat.   © 2017 Michael Nye

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Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Nineteen 

My time with these people has been interesting, and, some years back the family grew, first with a son, and then a daughter. I gather there were complications around the birth of the latter, but eventually all came good, and the family took their first outing on the small river with me. Whilst mother and baby were doing well, mother was a little on the frail side, and I couldn't help but to worry about her health even if these worries did prove to be unfounded. Some days later she came and sat with me, her children busy being adored by doting relatives and friends. She was only there for a quarter of an hour or so but I could tell her mind was in a turmoil. It was then that she spoke directly to me about her near death experience. She had seen things she didn't understand, and people that she knew but had never met. She was confused and worried that she should do something, but neither knew what to do or how to do it. I'm a piece of wood, and cannot speak, yet she asked my thoughts. After a period of silence lasting some minutes she smiled.
“Thank you,” she said as she got up to head back to the house.
I don't really know what I had done, other than to be there, to warrant gratitude but she'd made the decision to be bold and do something. That I was sure of.
Some time later the family had a guest. She was pleasant enough and she seemed to make everyone else a lot happier too. Something told me there was a connection between her and the one way conversation I'd had, and that she was one of the people from the near death experience. Quite where the connection lay, I do not know, but the happiness of whatever kind of reunion it was seemed to have had a permanent effect, and some of that far away look has gone, hopefully permanently. If I was in any was influential in the decision to find her then I am glad, as always, to have been of service. © 2017 Michael Nye

Come back for the next episode.


Alma
(a tale by Michael Nye)
http://www.michaelnyewriter.com

Part Twenty
 
Life can always hold its surprises. Not, of course, that I am in any way technically alive, but it is the best way that I can describe my existence. I arrived in this world over a century ago, and have experienced a lot of things. Then, I was built and maintained by craftsmen, the object word here being men. It was men that cut the trees, men that worked the wood, men that made and fitted the copper rivets. Now I find that it is a female hand that maintains me. I would say a woman but this person is no more than a girl. She has the same determined look that her mother and grandmother possess, plus a good part of the laid back temperament of her father and grandfather. I am aware that she occasionally has bouts of conscience and soul searching that her coming into the world almost took her mother out of it. She'll always feel that, it can't be helped, but she is also aware that the worst never happened. She and her elder brother were born to two of the most caring people that I have been in the care of.
Now maybe, with my being older than any living human being, I can be a bit set in my ways, and I have to admit that I thought it would be the boy, rather than his younger sister, that would have been interested in woodwork. With her delicate hands, and lightness of touch though, his sister has the makings of one who will become a master of her calling and I, for one, trust her with my very existence at the level of skill she currently has. More than being good with wood, she seems to understand the meaning of possessing a soul whether the possessor is human, animal or, like myself, an inanimate object. Can a piece of wood feel love? There's a question for you. She cares for me, and I care for both her and the rest of her family. I would hate to be the cause of injury to any of them, and hope that I can present any flaws in my structure so clearly that they would not put me into the water before repairs were effected. I think on the balance, I would have to say that I do my best to return the love shown to me, to be a positive part of the lives that I am touching, and simply to be there when required, and not demand attention when not. Is that love? I hope so. 
© 2017 Michael Nye