Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Para Handy

You've maybe heard of him? Or not.

My most recent foray into the wonders of canals and canal boats led me to the little steamboats -- Clyde puffers -- that hauled this and that on the wider canals and eventually around the Scottish coast, beginning not too long after the States ended their Late Unpleasantness and continuing as late as 1993.

You cannot so much as look at a Clyde puffer without running smack into Para Handy, dreamed up by Neil Munro in 1905. Oh, he never really existed; he's more colorful than real life ever was. And yet somehow his ship -- the Vital Spark, "the smartest boat in the trade" -- and his tiny crew and the skipper himself are iconic of the entire enterprise and uncommonly good fun besides.

Written with dialog largely in dialect (and one an American speaker of the mother tongue may find not especially permeable), Munro's short yarns paint an endearing picture without a hint of sappy sentiment. If you enjoy Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, you just might like this one.

The accent rings clearer to the ear. Of course the BBC could not overlook so ready a source of material, and produced at least three series, the most recent in the 1990s. And it just happens to be on YouTube:

As for me, I'm inspired to see how a similar tale or two might fare in my own Hidden Frontier. The Edgers are all about small-time shipping and free trade, after all....

10 comments:

Ancient Woodsman said...

Hmm....I first thought "a live-action 'Thomas the Tank Engine' on water".

As the Right Reverend Wilbert V. Awdry wrote in the 40s it is certain that Munro beat him to the punch, so perhaps Thomas is indeed The Vital Spark (the smertest boot in the ted) on wheels.

Neat post. Thanks.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Ah... sci-fi. Will the future be full of spacegoing equivalent of 19th C. tramp steamers ala Firefly and the Millenium Falcon (and like the GDW game Traveller) or will it be a lot more sterile futuristicky with automated container type ships?

The first makes for better fiction and adventure.

Old Grouch said...

automated container type ships

"...at the mercy of a single fuse."

Sean D Sorrentino said...

Mom was born in Port Glasgow. I've been there, but it's been 25 years. I can still understand the Glaswegian accent though.

Loose Gravel said...

Clyde Puffers are some of the neatest little ships around - a classic case of the right time and right place for their creation and use. In that fantasy dream of chucking it all and going to live on a boat, a Puffer is always high on the list. Practical? Not really. Expensive? Yep. But very, very stylish.

D.W. Drang said...

I thought "Para Handy" was going to be a new pocket pistol...

WV: ductil.

Roberta X said...

NJT: I'm counting on a mix, though threading in and out of Jump space is not easy for a machine; the decision algorithm to avoid big bumps has so far proven intractable. But within a planetary system, a mass driver and ballistic paths is the cheapest way to move mass from here to there -- if you have the time.

Sean: very fine! In the stories, the challenge in deciphering is that Munro was from the area himself and transcribed dialog with phonemes more-or-less in accord with Received Pronunciation, very different to the sounds my flat Midwestern US accent assigns the same letter-combinations. The Gaelicisms are generally familiar and no trouble -- "ken" and "kent" (knew), etc.

JohnW said...

These episodes are very picturesque, but so they come with subtitles?

Roberta X said...

The don't need them, at least to my ear; if they did have subtitles (check YouTube's "cc" option), you might find them tougher going.

I generally like dialects; they give flavor to speech.

Roberta X said...

Old Grouch: sorry, the spamtrap got you for some reason. Captain John Grimes, is it? Grimesy? ;) Loved that series. Chandler acknowldged his debt to Hornblower but I do see a lot of Para Handy in him, too. Mphm.