‘Like many other boat builders, every so often I’ve misplaced a tool, and spent ages looking for it only to find it in the first place I looked.
‘If you’re tired or in a rush this can quickly progress from merely being mildly perplexing to Rumplestilskin-style apoplexy.
‘But when it re-appears, it’s as if someone put it there, quietly, and deliberately.
‘Well, I think I have discovered the cause.
‘I walked up the path to visit my neighbour earlier for a Christmas drink. While strolling home comfortably full of the spirit of Christmas I noticed the lights on in my workshop. I thought perhaps I – or my wife – had left the lights on.
‘But, more, I could hear hammering! Peeking in the window I managed to shoot the photo above. I don’t know what it is, or what is was making, but it looked like one of Santa’s elves and it was using my hammer.
‘Being superstitious and full of understandable fear I decided I would not disturb the creature. I’m just hoping it’s workmanship was worthy and that it put my hammer back on the shelf. Boat builders everywhere will surely understand!’
This piece by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in the Scots Observer in 1888 – and I’ve republished it here because I think it will give most readers goosepimples, as it did me when I first read it.
The evocative image above comes from the wonderful Wikimedia, and is a painting by the 19th century artist Clement Drew.
And of course Happy Holidays and Merry Christmases to all our delightful readers and wonderful contributors.
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.
They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.
All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.
The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.
The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.
O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.
And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.
They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose topgallant sails,’ I heard the captain call.
‘By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,’ our first mate, Jackson, cried.
. . . ‘It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,’ he replied.
She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.
And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
There’s a very amateur MP3 podcast of me reading it here:
Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope you enjoy our little video in which Julie Atkin sings In the Bleak Midwinter. I’m sorry there aren’t too many boats in it, but it can be difficult to shoe-horn boat interest into the Christmas story!
In the meantime, Mal Nicholson has kindly sent me this splendid shot of Spider T in icy splendour (click on the image for a larger shot) and Emma at theBoat Building Academy sent me this cold, cold looking shot of beach huts at Lyme in the snow. Boatbuilder Charles Hussey has also chipped in with a shot of a narrow boat looking chilly (btw, check out the Drascombe Peterboat he built recently)…