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June 2003
Writer - Mike Soar
Mike Soar - Writer
Mike Soar - Writer
Mike Soar was born in Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and educated at Southwell Minster School where he was a boarder.
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Writer profile
Mike Soar was born in Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and educated at Southwell Minster School where he was a boarder.

He qualified in mechanical and production engineering, whilst apprenticed to a machine tool manufacturer in Halifax, then became manager of an engineering company near Nottingham.

Five years later he joined P-E Consulting Group and, in the next nine years, undertook a variety of assignments in the UK and South Africa.

After a period in the timber industry in Nottingham he returned to consulting.

Extensively travelled he has worked in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, India and America. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultancy.

Writer's Work - Arthur's Cap

He shoved the ferryboat off the shingle landing and stepped into it with practiced skill. The slow current eased the stern round as he settled on the main thwart and unshipped the oars.

His cap was pushed back and pulled down to one side giving him a rakish air and, with pipe clenched between teeth that contrasted starkly with his weathered features, he grinned up at me as he dipped the oars and started across the river.
That was the last time I saw Arthur, or so I thought...

Earlier this week, on a glorious morning, I rode leisurely along the towpath enjoying the tranquillity and sweet smells of one of the loveliest parts of our valley. Familiar to me since childhood it still gives me immense pleasure some fifty years on.

The Trent had lost its swollen spate and now, as if responding to the new season under way, flowed sedately towards Nottingham. Even the imposition of Barton Island caused hardly a ripple as the water parted to pass either side.
Although the sun was up it had yet to dissipate the wispy mist that drifted along with the slow current.

On the bend past the island a skein of Canada geese made a noisy passage across the river and flew low in front of me. Briefly they disturbed the peace, drowning the scattered calls of other water birds on the Attenborough lakes.

When I reached the spot where Ferry Farm used to stand, by Barton Lane, I dismounted and pushed my bike over the narrow stone bridge that spans the Erewash where it joins the Trent.

A little further, past the old boathouse, I left my bike on the bank and sat on the ferry seat beside the towpath.

Here the drifting mist was thick and obscured the opposite bank, but above and beyond I could see the small church spire and the red tiled roofs of Barton in Fabis.

Further along the line of the far bank I could make out the tops of the wooden piles of the old dock. They looked forlorn without the staging and rail track they had supported.

I recalled watching the narrow gauge train travelling from beyond Barton and the activity as the crew discharged the ore from the Gypsum quarries into the barges moored there.

"Grand day."

Startled I turned to see Arthur. He sat down next to me and took his pipe from a jacket pocket. "Not seen you for a while."
"No, not for a long time," I replied.

He attended to his pipe and, when satisfied, struck a match. He blew out a trail of smoke. "Remember taking you and your dad across. Came back from Fred Smith's farm with some bantams, a handsome game cock and two brown hens."

"You have a good memory."

He chuckled, "Not much I don't recall."

He tamped down the tobacco with a stained finger. "Don't suppose you still have them?"

"No. They died a long time ago."

"You still have poultry though?"

"Not after my bantams. I did keep some fantail pigeons for a while though."

Arthur sucked his pipe thoughtfully. "Pigeons is pigeons to me. They don't mix with farming, a ruddy nuisance they are."
I changed the subject. "Do you remember when we used to come over on Sunday afternoons and play cricket in your barnyard?"

"That I do. Livened the place up a bit to see you youngsters. Mind you I did get worried when you came here for a swim."

"Did you?"

"Speed of the current you see."

"Really?"

"Aye. In summer the water is low and speeds past the ferry line, some sort of hump."

"I didn't know that."

"Well this researcher bloke told me. Said it was a ford way back, something to do with building canals and them making the rivers deeper."

For a while we sat in friendly silence.

"You going across this morning?"

"No. No thank you."

"Take your bike for nothing." This was an old ploy of Arthur’s to get a return fare.
He glanced at his fob watch. "She'll be along in a few minutes."

"Who?"

"Janet Smith, Fred’s wife. Every Wednesday morning she goes shopping. I fetch her across and she walks to Long Eaton. She makes her way through the town then catches a bus at The Green."

The pipe needed attention again.

"Yes," he continued, "she allows herself that treat. Gets off at Barton Lane and walks up to our farm here. She stops for a cup of tea and a natter with the missus and then I takes her back across the river."

"Every week?" I asked.

"'Cepting when she don't." He winked at me.

"You're having me on."

"No. It's true. Just like clockwork and it has to be exactly four o'clock when I take her back. She says there would be hell to play if she was late when Fred comes in for his tea."
He stood up and made his way down the wooden steps to the boat. With a key from his pocket he unlocked the padlock, slipped the chain and was in the boat before I could think of anything to say so I waved.

He grinned up at me as he dipped the oars and started across the river to be enveloped by the mist. For a minute I could see his head and shoulders but then all that was left was his cap. That cap seemed to float on the mist for a long time until it disappeared too.

As I picked up my bike a breeze stirred the weeping willows along the bank. I looked across the river and the mist had disappeared and so had Arthur. Below me all that remained of the ferry steps and landing was a slight depression to the water's edge.

Now, I will swear, this was the last time I saw Arthur.
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