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Messing River

My father's love of boats began on the Thames. In 1928, he had a small dinghy that he rowed, earning coppers from a boatman who liked him. He told he lost this boat once and had to walk from Greenwich to Charing Cross pier to find it.

The police had found it on their barge. I wonder what they thought to this 8 year old child asking for his boat back. I checked, and there has been a flood in 1928, that's how he'd lost his precious boat.

There have been many boats in my life all centred around Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, all down to my father's love of boats and the sea. When the war came my father was desperate to enlist in the navy but his eyesight was poor, the army it was. He was furious, but did his time earning a M.C in the process. We never knew he had been so very brave.

Messing River

Alida with Hugh Cudlipp, festival weekend Honfleur

After the war, he found you could buy lifeboats very cheaply, owing to the redundant cruise ships all around the U.K. He spent years converting this first one to become my first boat, ‘The Constance Star’( Constance was my mother’s name). This meant engines, wheelhouse, beds and galley. He was very talented.

He sailed her round from Ramsgate and up the Thames to Putney, where it was moored at the Hurlingham Yacht Club. Sounds very fancy, but at the time, 1956, it was a Nissan hut just to the side of Putney Bridge.

Messing River

1955 Kingston Bridge, on board The Constance Star

As a toddler I was hooked to the railings and loved feeding the swans. Boats became my life too. We went up the Thames to Kingston, then Oxford. Glorious holidays and weekends. My father claimed that I was so healthy owing to the amount of Thames mud I had played in. I'm not so sure ! I do remember getting covered in grey smelly mud though and finding nice and really horrible things all around.

It was at Putney that my father heard a shout from a cabin cruiser going by. It was Hugh Cudlipp, his boss at the Mirror. I have to write now that they said something like, ‘good heavens what are you doing’, but you can imagine I'm sure what they really said. They had no idea that either of them had a passion for boats. This was the start of a tremendous 50 year friendship.

My father had been working on his second boat, the ‘Con Caro’ named after my mother and I, but it all stopped as he joined Hugh willingly, as navigator, engineer and drinking partner, up the Thames, over the channel, and up the Seine. I have mentioned the lovely Laranda, then Alida, but I haven't mentioned the Chinese Junk.

Messing River

Hugh Cudlipp with the Chinese Junk on the container ship

Hugh had been in Hong Kong and seen these colourful craft all around and decided he wanted one. It was to be kept on the Thames, up river at Sonning. Why not! This beautiful boat was shipped over to the UK strapped to the deck of a container ship. My father roared with laughter when he saw it. First, they had to sail it up river. Of course this required coolie hats, photographers and my poor father trying to steer this specialised craft up past Parliament, Hampton Court and home to Sonning. If you’ve never been on one, then unsteady is the best word to describe the experience, but with bright red sails and almost orange varnish, she looked spectacular.

Sundays were spent taking the junk downriver just far enough to ensure that the pubs by the river, the relaxed drinkers on the grassy banks and the tourists had a real, ‘did I just see that, how much have I had to drink moment’. Great fun.

My mother who had no sea legs at all really had an uncomfortable time on board. Below decks she was very well kitted out except for one small unusual feature that my mother discovered on using the ‘head’, the loo. There were two chains, unfortunately one was for the overhead shower. I'll just leave that there.

What happened to the junk ? Sold to ITV for a television series they were making, but there was still Alida safely moored in Hamble, two births from Edward Heath’s Morning Cloud.

Next time, the weekend we nearly committed treason, with Lord Mountbatten, bomb scares with Edward Heath, scrutiny from Harold MacMillan, and holed on the Seine.

Meet The Author...
Carolyn Soutar
Who Am I?

A born and bred Londoner happily settled in the beautiful Scarborough. I love music. Since I was 6 , when I started to learn the piano, this love has stayed with me.

At 3.a.m. when you just have to write, then music is the key. Along with the inevitable writer's cats, 2, who allow me to use my computer, the desk, the flat. You know.

My background is in theatre. I started in opera at the ENO, as a lowly Assistant Stage Manager. What a dream. Serenaded at 10.30 each morning by world class singers 8 years later I diverted to straight theatre, and worked with Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates, Janet Suzman, and a long list of amazing people. In 1981, I was given the chance to Stage Manage the Rudolf Nureyev seasons. It was a roller coaster of 5 years of ballet with Rudi. Dave Allen was a completely unexpected opportunity. This followed two tours with Peter O'Toole. I am and was star struck. I don't believe that any of us old theatre folk lose the ability to feel very nervous in front of a dressing room door containing one of our heroes.

I am very proud to have an event for the National Trust on my resume. It was for their centenary at West Wycombe, and it was, "The Battle of Trafalgar". I wrote and directed this, and felt very privileged that I was the first person to be commissioned to create an event for them. This was 1995. More events followed, then in 2004 either I had had enough of events or they of me, and writing called. I have been lucky enough to attend the Edinburgh International Literature Festival and a book signing in Cannes, France, and many others.

I have written two biographies. My motivation Mr de Mille? I knew them, worked with them, and though not by any means an academic Biographer, I knew I had a lot of insight to offer. Maybe the next one will be backstage tales, and there are a few of them. Hollywood starlets who cannot cope with 150 year old London dressing rooms, to wannabees who can't go on because their nail polish wasn't dry. I wonder how many volumes?

But my work in progress has to come next. It is my biography on Peter O'Toole, 'Hell Raiser', maybe. So many ideas, so many dreams.,/p>

So love of reading has to come next, or equally. How can you write without reading?

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