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  • When I was little my dad had a boat. Wooden, just a dinghy, but a lovely freedomcraft with which we crossed the loch in front of our home for picnics. Later in life I would swim across the loch, but then, only small, the 'other side' was beyond my imagination.

    The boat could take us there though.

    It had a little Seagull engine. I loved the smell it made. Fuelsmell. But I loved it's noise much much more.

    I would sit in the boat when we went fishing and hum to myself. I'd discovered something that the Tuvan people in southern Siberia had also, throatsinging. A strange harmonic chant that made me feel....well....slightly strange.

    I had no idea then what this humchant was, and only discovered much much later. But as a child I could not do it alone like the Tuvans, I needed the Seagull to accompany me. A watery duet. But I loved it, a hypnotic rhythmic boatboysong, but simple. (And now I like Nyman, Glass and Reich - how childhood shapes us.)

    We kept the boat in the large garage of dad's old schoolmistress, Miss M, a spinster, who had a fine house overlooking the loch. Dad was fond of Miss M because she had taught him as a boy, and she in turn was fond of him because she'd watched him grow and work and raise a family. She described his handwriting (dad ALWAYS used a fountain pen) as 'magnificent' (she was right, even I could see that). But she liked him most of all because he loved knowledge. And because he shared that love with we children.

    She was old though. I can remember her hands. I could almost see through them. I looked at my hand. And saw a hand. I looked at her hand. And saw a hand that had light coming through it.

    Odd, I thought. But when you're young oddness is everywhere, ambushing you wherever you go.

    In return for letting him keep the boat there, dad did the gardening for Miss M. and we children 'helped' by keeping out of the way and hiding in the giant garden. My mum would 'do the brasses' and all the things for Miss M that a 70 year old spinster needed doing, leaving the place shiny and clean.

    Miss M had travelled, been in India and other exotic places, and had accumulated 'stuff' of all sorts. Ebony, ivory, porcelain, brass, a great deal of brass; but as a teacher, mostly books. Lots and lots and lots of books. I had never seen so many books, ever. But these were not decorative books. These were 'working' books, books that we children could take down and thumb through. Encouraged to explore and wonder at.

    So we did. And we loved it.

    After the gardening and brass polishing there was, always, tea and cakes. A feast, surrounded by books.

    Then one day mum was crying. Dad was holding back the tears. Miss M had died. Suddenly.

    We went to the house. Miss M's family had arrived, and had summonsed us.

    They said "Aunt M was so pleased with the help you gave her over the years, she just would not have coped without you, and we really appreciate it. We're clearing the house but we'd love you take anything that you'd wish to. We know you'd like some brass. Aunt M was so proud of her brass and it was always so shiny, she loved that."

    My mum is of the sort that does not do things for people in the hope of reward. She does them because to not do them is unthinkable. She had to be prompted forcefully, very much against her wishes, to go and choose a piece that she could remember Miss M by.

    So she did. A small brass object.

    They asked my dad what he would like. Dad liked books.

    "I'd like a book." he said eventually. Saddened.

    They said they'd selected those few they wished to keep for the family, and they were gone, but there were so many many many many many many many many books, that they were burning them out the back in the garden.

    I could see the smoke.

    I walked round to watch. Dad was overcome by it all. He looked at the bonfire and picked a book randomly from the pile brought out and still lying in a wheelbarrow, ready to fuel the inferno. One of many many wheelbarrows that day.

    And he did what none of the others had thought to do..............

    He opened the book. Flicked thoughtfully, carefully, through the pages.

    And out fell an envelope. A church collection envelope. Dated. In advance. Months and months in advance.

    He gave it to a family member who tore it open, and inside found money, a note. Ten shillings, which at that time was 'a lot of money'.

    The family looked on in astonishment. Then they began to rummage through the books, all carelessly piled ready for the flames.

    And found more envelopes. Dated. Filled.

    They compared dates - different years. The hunt was now on. Months were missing, "Where is October?" "Has anyone seen May?" "May in which year?" "I have three Augusts!"

    The fire grew cold. The money accumulated.

    We left them to their treasure hunt.

    One might think this was some ploy by Miss M. Some final joke, which from on high she could just chuckle over.

    Knowing who she was, and how she was, and what she did for dad and mum, and we children, I think not.

    She just loved knowledge. And sharing it. Learning and teaching.

    But perhaps more than anything else she loved books, her books. But she knew the fate that awaited them.

    I'd like to think she simply wanted people to open them, to see the riches they contained. And for them not to be burned, carelessly, without a thought.

    For them to have a final flourish before the flames.
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