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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Boat Races


Mungo filled the big, metal tank up with water. He was excited. Tonight when the bairns got there, they were going to have a boat race. He’d run to the store and picked up some wooden and plastic boats for them to race across the tank of water. Some had sails, others didn’t, but they all could bob on top of the water as well as the others. He stuck his hand in, "Brrr. That’s cold water. We’ll have to be careful and not let the bairns get too wet," Mungo said to his cat Ginger. When it was filled to the brim, he went back into the house. All the boats were set out on the table. As the bairns arrived, he’d let them pick whichever boat they wanted; first come, first served. Snacks were placed in the living room. He carried through trays of crackers and cheese; chocolate bars, raisins and currants, and assorted nuts that he’d carefully shelled earlier in the day. Mungo always went to a lot of effort to make sure the bairns had a wonderful night when they came for storytelling night.

DING DONG! "They’re here, girl," Mungo said. "You don’t have to go into the bedroom, but stay out of the way," he warned Ginger. She meowed and ran through to the kitchen. "Hello Morag. You’re the first one here. Tonight we’re having a boat race. Go over to the table and pick out whichever boat you’d like."

"Thanks, Mr. McGee," she said and ran to the boats.

DING DONG! "Hello, Andy and Gregor. How nice to see you. Go on over and join Morag. Pick out a boat. We’re having races tonight in the back garden. I’ve set up a tank of water for us."

"Wow, Mr. McGee. Cool!" smiled Gregor. He and Andy ran over to the boats.

DING DONG! Mungo opened the door. "Hello wee Fiona, Gavin and wee Hamish. Come on inside." He shut the door behind them.

"What are those boats?" asked wee Hamish.

"We’re having races tonight in Mr. McGee’s back garden," said Andy, excitedly.

"Races? With boats? That sounds like fun," wee Fiona giggled.

Gavin stood next to Morag, selecting his boat. "Gavin, that’s a nice boat you picked. I think mine will be faster though," Morag bragged.

"I’ll beat you, Morag. You wait and see," Gavin assured her.

"We’ll see soon enough," she winked and walked away.

"All right, bairns. Has everyone picked a boat?" Mungo asked.

"Yes!" they all screamed.

"Put them down for now and come and eat some snacks. I’ve got a lot of good things for you tonight."

"I love raisins and currants," wee Fiona said, seeing them on the tray. "I could eat them all."

The bairns feasted on goodies, picked up their boats and went out to the tank. "Each of you has to name your boat," Mungo said.

"I’ll name mine, ‘Queen Morag’," said Morag.

"I’ll call mine ‘Boat’," said wee Hamish.

"You can’t call your boat that?" said Gregor, laughing.

"Why not?" asked wee Hamish.

"Because that’s a silly name."

"He can name his boat anything he wants," Mungo said. Wee Hamish stuck his tongue out at Gregor. "What will you call your boat?"

"I want to call it, ‘The Great Gregor’," he said.

"Good name. What about you wee Fiona?" Mungo asked.

"I think I’ll call my boat, ‘Butterfly Lights," wee Fiona said.

"Why, Fiona, that is beautiful. Isn’t it lovely?" Mungo asked the others.

"I want to call mine, ‘Tiger Tail’," said Andy. "It has stripes on it, like a tiger."

"Good name, Andy. Gavin? What about you?"

"Mine with be called, ‘Windjammer’," he said.

"You’ve all named your boats. You all need to get used to your boats though so play with them in the water, but be careful, it’s very cold. I’ll tell you a bit about another boat," Mungo said. The bairns floated their boats and listened. "There was a king of Scotland named James IV. He wanted to have the greatest navy in the world and have the biggest ships in the world. He found a good place to build ships, where the water was deep enough. Newhaven was selected. It’s part of Edinburgh now, but in 1511, it was just a quiet little village. King James had trees cut down for wood to build it. Nearly all of the woods in Fife were cut down."

"He cut down all the trees by himself?" wee Hamish asked.

"No, wee Hamish. He had men go and cut them down. They had to bring them from Fife, all the way over to Newhaven. Men came from Flanders to work and from many other places in the world," Mungo continued.

"Where’s Flanders?" asked Morag.

"It isn’t called Flanders any longer, but its where the Netherlands is and Belgium. The people who lived there were good with making fabrics and they came to work on the ship."

"What was the ship’s name?" asked Andy.

"It was called, ‘The Great Michael’, just like your ship, Gregor." Gregor smiled. "It was the largest ship ever built in that time. It had 27 cannons and was going to have 300 men working on it. Can you imagine that?" Mungo asked.

"That’s a big ship," wee Fiona said.

"What happened to the ship?" asked Gavin.

"There were a few things that happened. First of all the ship was too big. It was a beautiful ship. They had a huge celebration when it was complete but it was just too big. It couldn’t really sail well and never worked too good. Then there was the war, the Battle of Flodden. King James IV and many other Scottish men were killed there. It was a horrible time for Scotland. Nobody knows what happened to the Great Michael, but the shipbuilding times for Newhaven were over. Most of the people who had come to work on it, stayed and Newhaven became a nice fishing village."

"That’s sad. After all that work and all the trees that were cut down, the ship didn’t work," Morag sighed.

"It’s sadder that there was that big battle where so many Scottish men died," Gavin added.

"It was a sad time, but now, let’s think of better things. Let’s have our boat races!" Mungo said.

The bairns spent another hour or two floating their boats across the tank. It was decided that ‘The Great Gregor’ was the fastest boat and Gregor took home the blue ribbon for first place winner.

DING DONG! "Time to go now," Mungo said. "You can take your boats, or ships, with you. You can play with them in your bathtubs if you’d like or the kitchen sink."

"Thank you," the bairns said.

After they’d all gone home, Mungo drained the water out of the huge tank. It ran all over his back garden. It watered his flowers and his grass. He rolled the tank against the back of the house and went inside. His feet were soaking wet and his hands were icy cold. As he sat in his chair, petting Ginger, he thought about his ancestors, who happened to have come across from Flanders to work on the Great Michael. He was proud of them and as he dozed off to sleep, thoughts of the mighty ship sailing down the Firth of Forth floated through his mind.


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