There are lessons we all learn from childhood. Not necessarily taught . They are the ones we remember . But the ones we learn from personal indignation chasten us even more .
They endure when others have ebbed .And other than some chastisement richly deserved meted out by a parent often too tired to consider in any real depth the gravity of the sin , it is these others which form the greater part of our characters.
At least it was this way with me .
My closest friend of those boyhood years was Frank.
As I was eighteen months his elder , he believed in me implicitly .
Even then I knew that put me in a precarious position. My infallibility such that it was imbued in me a sense of empowerment .That sort of empowerment which would convince Frank that in my presence we were invincible . We knew few fears; our secrets were sacred , and whoever we decided would have to die ; well it was only a question of who would fire the shot. We planned quite a few assassinations together .
Frank was impetuous
I suppose he had every reason to be . We had spend days building this catamaran in his fathers workshop.. Frank’s father had owned a large hardware store in town , and off the store there was this joiner’s shop, which his family also owned
The carpenters helped us put the little craft together in haste , not from any sense of kindness but rather because they didn’t know whether this chore was on their boss’s orders or didn’t have his approval at all . But their enthusiasm I now believe was based on their determination to to get us out of that store .
They didn’t believe we would try to really to sail it .But they didn’t know us then and never would later .
Now as we were crossing the last of the three main bridges which then divided our townre there was a tail race running parallel to the main river .It ran from the slaughter house and at a higher level to the quay stream ; the main river . This seemed an ideal opportunity to test her out.
-Lets drop her in here Frank said, as I almost anticipated to my dread that he would..
I held out
- Better get her tarred first ,I said
-She’ll just take water
- how much .. Will she float .. He persisted
I tried another approach, partly because I didn’t really believe she would float. I wanted a bit more reassurance ; a little more home work based on the original ..
- if she takes water , we’ve got to carry home.. All that extra weight
- no no .. she wont take much
Against hope I conceded and we hauled the small craft over the wall.
Frank was the type who if you told him you could jump off the top of the tallest building with a pair of chicken wings , he’d believe you. That was one of the problems I had with Frank It was not that he was slow ; but because my mature months rendered me an infallibility which I didn’t always cherish..
But his natural instinct to trust me . Implicitly. That caries a lot of responsibilities. You wouldn’t believe it.
-So who goes first
- lets toss
- heads I go tails you go
It was his toss and as the catamaran was swaying against the current I could hear with dread the trickle of water into her hulls.
Frank was just too impetuous . That’s what I mean by impetuous ..
As he pulled himself away from the bank he heaved against the current. But too with too much ferocity. Again that impetuous thing. And of course the paddle was just lashed together with bailing twine , just snapped.
Undeterred F kept pulling on this side then the other , and to my increasing gloom I saw that the bow was dipping with every stroke .
He didn’t seem to notice or know the foreboding .
-pull he back in and ill get on .
As I crouched just behind him the thing lifted in the bow but against all my hopes it began to dip deeper everywhere else
- cant hold her with you on board - he said as he struggled to keep her into the river.
- just keep paddling on the right .. As she turns just straighten her.
With this we eventually got back to the bank
- well I told you I said getting off.
- why’s she keep goin down in the bow .. Look .. And he plunged the bow down with one stroke .
The other thing we omitted to bring was a rope . So I couldn’t let him go,
But she was definitely plunging .
One of the things you equip yourself with dealing with some one like Frank was a capacity to think 2 steps ahead as best you could.
- well for one thing she had no buoyancy tanks
He seemed to mull this over .
- why didn’t we put them in
- Cos we had to get her out if the joinery before your parents came back from lourdes ., said
-Remember ?, I said Shifting the blame ; balancing my cogent argument but knowing it was as weak as our sinking vessel.
- Yea yea ..well she’s no good like this … hey ! Shes taakin water.
Now he realised this as the thing was down to the gunnels , or what they had put in as gunnels..
-Yea .. We didn’t tarmac her.
Against his protestations we hauled the thing out and boy was she heavy.
About twice the weight she had been.
- jees we’re not carrying her back to the house like thisFrank protested.
- either that or we drain her.
- oh fuck ! s lets just leave her
-Cant leave her there . They’d think some kids were lost on her and ther’td be an investigation.
He looked down into the raging current of the main river below this race and I knew what he was thinking before he said
-Lets drop her over the side .. She’ll be smashed by the time she reached the pier.Then from a consideration for my vreation he said
-Ok Oklets drain her he said resignedly .
We managed to drain some of the water out . All the way home he kept saying how much lighter she was before we launched her.
It was one of those moments you didn’t argue with Frank. he had an un predictable temper which he hadn’t the smallest inkling of how to restrain. So it was better not to remind him that it was on his insistence that we launched her.
All the way home the little catamaran which we’d bulit on a rough sketch from a friends one seemed to get heavier and more so as it began to become clear that she was a failure .
A couple of times Frank suggested we just dump her over a wall . But I persisted . We’d take her home . Drain her right . Then dry her . Then we’d apply a coat of polythene , and over that a coat of tarmac . She couldl’nt take water.
Reluctantly he struggled on. Carried the thing all the 2 miles to the top of the hill where Frank lived.
Next day we got to work boiling up the tar with a paraffin torch, applied a sheet of torn polythene and tarred it over again.
Just before the tar dried another friend with an artistic streak painted the jaws of a shark on her bows .
Noble Noble , I thought
But I’d taken the trouble to go back and examine the original catamaran. I saw that we had been all too frugal with the beams of the hulls . We had cut them about half what they should have been. Its buoyancy was never going to work I now realised.
Nonetheless we headed off next day to launch her at Palmer’s Rock. My belief that the salt water would lent it just that bit more buoyancy was more a hope against hope that it would work.
We launched her just off the rock as it was full tide. The other kids were all around. The one day I didn’t want them .
I had a certain reputation of the streets to retain . Most of them didn’t believe we could make something which float ; the others just hoped it wouldn’t . They were just like that.
Envious little bastards .
Frank was impervious to others kids hopes or beliefs ; their credulity at the bombs and stuff we’d made before . He didn’t care about any personal triumph where to other kids ir was everything , ,But my pride was on the line
Difficult though it was we both managed to get onboard between the swelling waves.
It was all too clear and all too suddenly so that the bow was going to plunge again.
Frank was about to give up hope as we pulled away from the shore , and was about to abandon the project . I convinced him again that if I got behind him , as I was heavier we could keep the bow up. But it didn’t work..
Christ , The ignominy ; the shame .
We were about half way to the lighthouse ; about a mile or more off shore when Frank simply said.
- ive enough , and slipped over the side. He was a strong swimmer but he stuck beside the catamaran , Until till the worst of my fears materialised . I was resigned . She was a failure.
So Frank just took a short bow rope and put it between his teeth and began to paddle backwards to the beach.
When we were about 50 yards off shore , I said
- lets let her go
As we pulled away ,looking back at our failed craft the waves slopped over her then slipped over and she went down like a diving dolphin into the sea.
As we reached the beach almost as if it were designed to rub salt into my sullen but raw psyche , Mick comes paddling along in his catamaran. It hurt
- how come our didn’t work
- we got the measurements wrong
- wrong - how come
Frank who believed in me utterly up until and this a moment had his first realisation of doubt in in me dawn on him
- how come
- you took the measurements wrong
- all wrong.. I didn’t make the right measurements .
Frank was a guy who liked answers . A bit like me . But dishonesty he could not abide .
- I shoulda measured the hulls .. Wer’nt wode enough.. Not enough to hold her up.
I- I just did .. Screwed it up..sorry.
-all that wasted time . He said looking out on the bay as our friend sailed gloriously by.
- yea .. But next time we’ll know .. Ok .?
-Ok .. Ok .. Who cares , he said thrashing a frond of seaweed into the sand .
He began to walk up the strand ; his clothes like mine dripping wet.
And as I studied tit had made another idea came to me .
- Maybe if we put two car tubes under her ,,it’d keep her up.
And as we dragged ourselves up the strand , a miraculous thing happened . Someone down on the rock shouted ..’’Shoal !! .. Shoal ..
The gulls were screeching within seconds . The sea was bursting beyond the rocks as the first shoal of mackerel chased the herring seed ashore, and another diversion was to deliver us from any other distraction . It was time to forget the catamaran .
It was mackerel time.
The tide was in and it was time to run for rods reels, and baits . The fever of the evening took us un like the undertow of the wave and we had soon forgotten the sinking of our unfortunate craft.
We got up early the following morning . Well before the tide had turned well before the other kids had stirred from their beds .
You had to retrieve the baits you had lost and maybe , yes maybe a few you hadn’t personally lost . That was the moral code of the time .Ewe all stuck to that one . Rigidly.
We were both waist deep in our plunder when just beyond our reach , there it was ; bobbing up and down like a seals head. Mocking somehow . Hectoring, scoffing , mocking . The bow was afloat which made things worse. It angered me and hurt me that fate would make a lampooning gesture out ofmy creation.
Without a word. Without any indication of what he was going to do next ,I saw Frank hurl a strong line beyond the craft , then drag the line gently through the wave till his treble struck the timber . Then he pulled and sunk the hooks into her skulking ribs .
Then he hauled it home ever so gently until it began to come with his line.
There was nothing else to do.
We stoned her like a miscreant from the bible. Stoned her till there was nothing left but a few jagged nails. Battered what was left against the kelp until there was nothing moreleft .
Our collective anger appeased , and my shame buried at last we went merrily through the day. And no surprising seal did bob his head.
And so that summer went blissfully by
Any reference to the craft was dealt with a swiftness and brutality such these too ran their short but inevitable course .
What do we learn from things like this .?
I don’t know ; chastity perhaps.
But it was a long time before I was to discover the many meanings of being chaste.
Humility maybe - but no neither of us became humbled .
It taught me something that I cant grasp now . Was it something to do with hubris.?
And now its so long ago that I cant remember why we bothered doing it at all.
Maybe it was just because we were young and no amount of reflection ever explains the expansive and undeterred mind of the young.
Only our memories lie .
And these at least for my part are utterly unreliable .
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