They said it was unsinkable. But they didn’t know how structurally unsound it was, and when, on that fateful day in April 1912, it did sink, several people got very wet and very cross indeed. My uncle Godfrey had to resign from his position in the boating lake at the local park, a broken man, who would never willingly do a day’s work again. It had all started so well, a sunny April afternoon, and the pleasure boat “Fanny” (Named after Fanny Brice, the popular American starlet of the Zeigfield Follies) was on its regular voyage around the little island in the centre of the pond. Visibility was good and the air pressure was rising slowly, as the passengers embarked, and for at least the first part of the journey a pleasant time was had by all. My Uncle Godfrey was the master of the vessel, and after having collected all the tickets, he would often take out his fiddle and entertain the passengers, whilst his first mate, Joe Boxhall, steered. That afternoon, Uncle Godfrey begun with a few Irish jigs and reels. He always enjoyed that kind of thing, his feet a tapping and his captive audience appreciative, he decided to get them to join in with the old ballad the Wild Rover. During the choruses of the song he stamped vigorously on the floor of the boat, and entreated the passengers to do likewise. In the subsequent court case, he claimed not to have heard the warning cracking noise of the wooden hull starting to splinter, but several witnesses say that it was clearly audible above the din of his fiddle and the group who were singing. Mayne the half bottle f rum he had consumed before embarkation had something to do with the impairment of his senses and judgement, but whatever the reason he carried on undeterred, and during the fourth chorus, he put his foot clean through the bottom of the boat, which, in an advanced state of decomposition already, began to fragment, with the result that passengers began to slide into the murky waters. Boxhall managed to steer towards the ornamental island, and fortunately no-one was immersed further than waist height, but clothing was ruined, and spirits significantly dampened.
Impressively, My Uncle continued to play on the fiddle throughout the incident, or at least until a burley passenger threatened to shove the ruddy thing up his arse if he didn’t desist at once. There were no fatalities, and passengers and crew were eventually rescued in a convoy of smaller vessels. The Fanny was not the only unsinkable vessel to go down in 1912, days later the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean… But that’s another story.
Doris’s Pop pick of 1912: “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” by Jack Judge. Although this song didn’t become a classic until its chart re-entry during the Great War, it was a song that My Uncle Godfrey (who claimed to have Irish blood in his veins) knew well. He often said that he never felt further from Tipperary than he did when he was going down on Fanny.