"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
Continuing the series of childhood reminiscences of Dr Halliday Sutherland: launching ships, toy boats and a susceptible curate.
In my childhood many steamers were built and launched between Clydebank and Gourock. The ceremony of launching was one I loved. A bottle of champagne smashed on the bow, a name given, some great person pushing a button, hydraulic power imperceptibly raising the bow. No movement. Silence, broken only by whispers: “Will she go?” Something creaks. The great hull begins to move on the greased blocks down the slipway, and thousands of people are cheering. So slowly and so gently does she move that it at first seems as though the hand of a child could stop her. Yet in that slow movement is a momentum which the power of Hercules could not check. With every second her speed is increasing, and now she is rushing down the slipway to the water. As she takes the plunge, a great wave is sent across the water. A ship is born. Strong hawsers of rope, to check her from running aground on the farther bank, are broken like threads. Once she is afloat and at rest the builders are happy, but not until then, because once on the Clyde a newly launched ship turned turtle. Now snorting tugs tow her odd to Port Glasgow, where engines, boilers and funnels will be fitted. As soon as a ship was launched, the keel of another was laid.
For toys I had a rude model of the Benbow, the battleship that guarded the Clyde, made out of chunks of solid wood. I launched it in the bath. For armament my Benbow had one small brass cannon which fired gunpowder whenever this could be procured. I also had a model cutter with smooth lines, and a hatch which opened so that I could smell the varnished interior. She had a lead keel, but was worth carrying to the model pond in Alexandria Park, two miles away. This cutter I won in an Episcopal Church raffle, or at least I hope I won it. My governess was very pretty, and when the curate brought the prize one evening to the house, the two had a conversation. My governess seemed to have a doubt about something or other; but, being absorbed in the prize, all I overheard was the curate’s remark: “Well, what does it matter? somebody had to get it.” As I have said, my governess was very pretty, but at that age I did not know how susceptible curates may be. A steam locomotive was another treasure, emitting delightful odours of burnt paint, methylated spirits, and olive oil.
From A Time to Keep (1934).
Engraving shows HMS Benbow from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:HMS_Benbow_(ship,_1888)