Small Worlds, Old Worlds
This Friday it’s short story time again but, even though it’s not relevant to the story, I couldn’t resist posting this photograph. Earlier this week I was out walking the dog round the local pond and spotted this forest of lichen growing on a bridge parapet. I didn’t have a ‘proper’ camera with me, so I took a quick photograph with my phone. Close up it looks like a place where great adventures could take place. It goes to show that sometimes it pays to look closely at the small things in life, rather than searching for an epic.
This week’s story, The Silent Highway, is based round a real person, the lost world of professional prize swimming and a Fernley family story.
Joey Garlick, the central character in the story, is based on a professional swimmer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Joseph Nuttall. He was known as the Stalybridge Merman and, at his prime, he was the professional world champion at every distance from 100 yards to two miles. Nuttall swam against the world’s best swimmers, at home and abroad, and was unbeaten for most of his career.
Nuttall thrived at the time when there was a conflict between professional and amateur sport. Nuttall swam for large prize purses of hundreds of pounds, and there was vigorous betting on his races. Unfortunately this meant that he was ineligible to swim in the 1904 Olympics, where he would undoubtedly have been a multi-medal winner.
I would never have discovered Joey Nuttall and his story if it hadn’t been for a piece of family history. One of my great grandfathers was called Joesph Nuttall and, when he was an old man, he would often swim in the local mill pond and my exasperated grandmother would spend hours trying to fish him out of there. He died in the early 1940’s, so both my parents could recall this happening. It’s been an accepted fact that my great grandfather was Nuttall the world champion swimmer: unfortunately the research I’ve done so far suggests otherwise. There’s still an outside chance that he is a distant relative, and it’s one of the things I want to find out when I write our family history.
This story currently exists in two versions, the short story I’ve published here, and a TV film script I wrote for a creative writing course. I don’t think I’m done with Joey yet though: I keep toying with the idea of the Silent Highway as a novel, so it might resurface (forgive the swimming pun) at a later date.
I hope you enjoy it.