The Little Boat

The little boat was bobbing in the Creek. It was a very sad little boat, its paintwork was dirty, covered in mud from the winter. Its red sail had not been unfurled since its last trip out in the Autumn and no-one had set foot on its deck since that day. It felt dirty, forgotten and unloved. It longed for a sunny day to warm its decks again, it had been such a proud little boat once.

Then one day as it sat on the mud waiting for the tide to be deep enough to re-float it, the incoming tide brought with it a young seal. “Hello little boat” he said, “can I sit on your deck for a while, I have been swimming for a long time and need a rest”. The little boat felt a quiver of excitement as the first of the tide reached her hull and lifted her gently, and not waiting for an answer the seal jumped aboard. “Why are you so sad little boat?”, and the little boat told him how no-one loved her and how lonely she was without any friends. “I’ll be your friend little boat, what is your name”? “I haven’t got one really, they just call me the boat”. “My name is Sammy and I shall call you Fair Lady, though you don’t look very fair at the moment. You’ll soon look beautiful again, the spring is here and everything gets spring-cleaned. Cheer up little boat, I will come and see every day until your family comes back”, and the little boat felt so much better. A weak ray of sun hit her porthole and started to warm her cabin and Fair Lady began to feel alive again for the first time in ages. The seal lay on her deck and told of his travels up and down the river chasing the fish and how he liked to visit the quiet creek.

The next day was Saturday and Fair Lady was hoping Sammy would visit her when the tide came in. The sun was shining much brighter that morning and she started to shiver as in the distance she recognised a voice calling – “I can see the boat – oh doesn’t she look dirty and miserable, not like our boat at all. Can we take her home and wash her daddy?” asked one of the children and her little heart started to thump as she felt feet on her deck again. How lovely the thought, perhaps she would get a wash and her sails set and maybe even a sail down river. After looking her over, she suddenly felt herself moving as she was pulled out of the water and onto her trailer. The children were as excited as she was as finally she was attached to the Land Rover and started to slowly move from the boatyard. The ride was very bumpy over rough land, but that didn’t matter, she was being taken home and her family hadn’t forgotten her. She felt a thrill run from her keel to the top of her mast as her trailer turned onto the bridge and there was the house which called out, “Hello little boat, nice to see you again”, and the little rowing boats wagged their oars at her. She was towed into the field and parked by the tap. She was stripped down, her mast removed and then came that lovely feeling of clean water on her deck and a soft brush making her tingle, soap suds were everywhere and made her sneeze, but oh how she loved it. She had her keel painted with anti-fouling and was polished from head to mast top. Her brasses shone in the spring sun and her mast and sails which had been washed, were put back. That night she was taken back to the creek and launched on the incoming tide. With her family all aboard she sailed out of the creek into the Humber. She felt fantastic and only one thing was missing – her friend Sammy, But suddenly from her port side a voice called “Ahoy there Fair Lady, don’t you look great, I think I gave you the right name”. And side by side the two of them sped up the Humber and her heart swelled with pride and happiness.

Written 25th March 2007
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)

Public Domain Day 2021

Tarzan & the Golden Lion, illustrated in 1922 by James Allen St. John

Another year has turned, and another batch of old material has emerged from copyright.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Born in Chicago in 1875, Burroughs is principally famous for two stories about people removed from their environment of birth: Tarzan, the British noble firstborn adopted by an ape, and John Carter, a Confederate veteran who finds himself on Mars.

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was forthright in many controversial campaigns, a presence among the highest echelons of society and an active political force well into his tenth decade, but I can’t help but think that nowadays a lot of his works – especially Pygmalion and Arms and the Man – are now remembered more as the basis for puns and parodies than for their actual contents.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald actually died eighty years ago, but the intricacies of US copyright law mean that The Great Gatsby only now enters the public domain. Long used as an educational staple, a landmark of social commentary and the ill-judged inspiration for lavish house parties, this novel is now available for anybody’s interpretation, though maybe Flash is best avoided.

Eric Arthur Blair, AKA George Orwell

The giant of twentieth century political literature, Orwell first became known to me through the school English curriculum circa 2011. In that spring we were tasked to write – and then perform to the class – a speech on what we would consign to Room 101. I was ranked first in class for my condemnation of the caravan. While that was obviously derived more from the television series than from Orwell’s own writing, it still taught us about him if indirectly. In the early summer we analysed his essay Shooting the Elephant and I recall in the end of year examination (not sure if it was the real one or the mock) one of the passages included was an extract from chapter 3 of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Winston coughs a lot while performing the physical jerks. At that autumn’s prize-giving event I was named best in year for both sciences and humanities and my reward included two book tokens. I distinctly remember that Nineteen Eighty-Four was one the works I most wanted to buy with them, the other being The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins*. It is unclear exactly when I got around to buying and reading them (probably Whitsun 2012 is the late limit), but digging through old email correspondence with a classmate shows that in November I discovered and watched Michael Radford’s 1984 film adaptation. This was a source of unintentional mirth at the time as we noticed two of our history teachers interacting in what we read to be a mildly amorous manner while bearing a vague physical resemblance to John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton. I also recall a different classmate ardently recommending that I read Animal Farm, which I did at the same time, though I do not recall how I came about my copy of that book nor where it currently resides.

At some point during these years I also found in my school’s library a copy of Homage to Catalonia, the tale of Orwell’s experience fighting for the POUM in the Spanish Civil War. The book was about forty years old** and I could barely turn a page without it breaking off in my hand. The librarian intervened several times with spine tape but eventually decided that the book was beyond rescue and decided to withdraw it from display. She placed it on a special shelf near her desk with a red ticket inside reserving it for me, on the understanding that it would stay there until I had finished it, after which she would throw it out (or give it to me permanently, it seems) and buy a new one.***

Orwell has particular relevance to this entry because period in which I read most of his works was the time of SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA in the United States, alongside the superinjunction controversies at home. It was also the time when I became engaged in various online “reviewtainment” makers (SF Debris, Red Letter Media, Trilbee et al), as well as various fandom communities, whose existence such bills would have threatened. One consequence I started looking up author death dates to commence mental countdowns to when various bits of media would enter the public domain, and Orwell’s works were especially prominent in this – his writing being so much centred around ideas of the control of information and knowledge.

The question now arises of what can be done to take advantage of his works’ new status, and one possible answer has occurred to me: Nineteen Eighty-Four includes a very sizeable book-within-a-book called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, ascribed Brotherhood-leader Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston Smith reads the first chapter “Ignorance is Strength” and the third chapter “War is Peace”, but the Thought Police arrest him before he – and therefore we – can get a good look at the second.

I don’t really do competitions on this blog, since I have neither a large enough circulation nor any good prizes to give away, but if there are any teachers reading this I recommend an essay challenge for your students, which technically is also a fanfiction opportunity – tell me why freedom is slavery.

Further Reading:

2021 in Public Domain

*Somewhat ironically, that year’s prize also included a quatercentenary edition of the King James Bible.

**The latest reprint listed on its now-defunct copyright page was 1971, and the only checkout date stamped on the card affixed to the first page was 10th October 2011. Presumably I was the one taking it home on that date, for clearly nobody else had touched the book in a long time, but I may have been reading it within the library before then.

***The next year I took home a 1969 print of J. P. Nettl’s The Soviet Achievement, which I held together with some of my father’s aluminium duct tape. In May and June 2014 she held a clearing sale for a lot more books. I spent 25p on Communist Political Systems: An Introduction (Printed in 1988) by Stephen White and 10p on Structure and Change in Modern Britain (Printed in 1981) by Trevor Noble. The latter two showed no damage except their spines fading in the sunlight, but perhaps no love either as their checkout cards were blank. White’s book I found engaging enough to finish but Noble’s was so dull that I stopped with my bookmark still lodged at page 53 of 416, having found that just reading the blurb aloud would see my classmates drifting off to sleep.