OUT NOW: The Probably True Adventurs of Sparky Malone – Michael Briggs
The spirit of Sparky and his voyage to success
When Sparky is born in 1941, during the second World War, his life begins with an innate taste for adventure, challenge and success: “Sparky grew into a strong young lad, he always preferred to be outside exploring the world around him.”
From the beginning, Briggs brilliantly recounts Sparky’s life, work and travels and his hardworking yet mischievous nature shines through each chapter. There are detailed descriptions and humorous tales of Sparky’s early career in the British Merchant Navy, where he travels the world as a ship’s radio officer during a time of huge change following the ravages of the war. These continuing themes of world travel and adventure fly off the pages thanks to Sparky’s captivating anecdotes and tales from far flung corners of the world. Later, when Sparky moves ashore working as a marine radio service engineer, there is enthusiasm too for his maritime ‘home trade’ and his passion is as strong as ever, as the author writes: “The coastal trade was booming, just like world trade in general. He loved it.”
The Probably True Adventures of Sparky Malone is crammed with pages and pages of Sparky’s exploits and his continued lust for life and nature. Sparky continues on his insatiable quest for adventure, as the author describes: “He loved mountains and the sea in equal measure, and found endless opportunities to enjoy himself, continuing to seek adventure wherever he was.”
The reader follows the twists and turns of Sparky’s career, his progression into life as a salesman and the world of the overseas sales security industries where he flirts with danger and controversy. For Sparky, his experiences are always memorable, such as being marooned in Baghdad during the first gulf war or escaping Iraq’s deserts and a hair-raising journey across no man’s Land into Jordan.
The author superbly submerges the reader into a historical context, understanding the world Sparky inhabited alongside his unique personality and a zest for life during what was an exciting and opportunistic chapter of the 21st century: “The late 1960s and the 70s were made for people who went out to succeed, the economy of the whole world was booming. Sparky worked hard, and played hard. Despite his newfound responsibilities, he was still Sparky, mischievous, adventurous, sometimes outrageous, and occasionally risqué.”
However, life is not all plain sailing for Sparky as the reader shares in his personal tragedies and crises throughout his lifetime: “Sparky was now forty one years old, and the traumatic events of those closing months, the loss of his mum, his downward spiral from a previously secure and affluent life, to near bankruptcy, all took a heavy toll on him.”
Sailing through 70 years of Sparky’s life, The Probably True Adventures of Sparky Malone is a triumph on all fronts. The book traverses the genres of travel, history, memoir and humour as well as being a moral and inspiring story of one man’s desire and determination to explore, experience and achieve.
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About the Author
Michael Briggs, author, storyteller and adventurer, was born in Aberdeen Scotland in 1941 when the second world war was beginning to escalate. His father was serving there in the British army. From an early age, he was obsessed with ships and the sea, and ran away as a galley boy on an Icelandic fishing boat aged just fourteen. In 1959, he qualified as a ships radio officer in the merchant navy spending eight years sailing round the world. Now approaching the twilight of his life, he lives happily and comfortably in Lancashire England, close to his beloved mountains and the sea.
Excerpt from Part 1 – The Early Years: Running Away to Sea
Half term came round and Sparky went back to his new home in Manchester, he had no friends except Norman who lived on the other side of the city. Normans parents had not yet forgiven Sparky for the parachute incident but eventually agreed they could meet. The two pals had a great time catching up with each others adventures and they spent a day wandering near the Manchester ship canal where Sparky was once again mesmerized by the sight of all the ships, tugs and barges. When he got home he plucked up courage and asked his dad if he could go to sea as a sailor when he was old enough. His dad was having none of it and lectured him about looking towards his future, telling him to work hard and make something of himself instead of dreaming of a wasted life at sea.
Sparky was devastated and sat around the house being miserable but suddenly he had one of his bright ideas. There were a few days left of the half term holiday so he asked his dad if he could go to Blackpool and see his real mum. He usually visited her a couple of times a year, which was not as often as he would have liked. His dad made the phone call and that afternoon with his naval kit bag packed, he was sitting on the bus with a smile on his cheeky face and feeling much happier. His mum met him off the bus with lots of hugs and kisses, then took him home for a slap-up tea. They chatted away about what had been happening since his last visit.
He told her about his dad’s refusal to agree to his seagoing life. She commiserated with him and said maybe his dad would change his mind.
That night in bed, he lay there thinking about the Fleetwood fish docks. It was only a short tram-ride away, and he could almost feel the power of the sea calling him and hear the sailors laughing and joking about their last trip. He knew what he had to do, but did he have the courage? Sparky was only small but he was very strong and confident for his age. He had the gift of the gab, inherited for sure from his paternal grandparents who were originally from County Cork in Ireland.
It was with some trepidation however, that he made his mind up and next morning, when his mum was out shopping, he packed his sea bag, and left a tear-stained note on the mantelpiece.
He really loved his mum and didn’t want to hurt her but he knew that she would understand; she was also a free spirit. When he arrived at the fish dock, it was humming with activity, lots of noise and the strong smell of fish. He almost turned and ran back to the tram station but then a voice called out to him, ‘Who you shipping out with mate?’ Sparky turned to see a young sailor lad, probably a couple of years older than him, with a battered kit bag over his shoulder and his canvas cap perched cockily on the back of his head. ‘I haven’t made my mind up yet,’ lied Sparky in a shaky, uncertain voice.
The young sailor knew that Sparky hadn’t got a clue, but he went over to him anyway and introduced himself as Gordon McBride, deckie learner on the trawler Wyre Defender. They chatted for a while over a mug of strong tea from the dockside café. Sparky came clean and admitted he was trying to get a away on his first trip.
Gordon was sixteen and had already done three trips to the Icelandic fishing grounds. Sparky was in awe, he lied again saying he was sixteen and had already left school. It appeared that the Defender was short of a galley boy, the regular one having been taken ill that morning and they were due to sail in two hours on the midday tide. Gordon knew exactly what Sparky was about, he’d been there a few months earlier. It would be good for him to have another young lad on this trip, that way they could gang up on the regular sailors when they were making life hard for them. ‘We can ask my skipper if he’ll take you on,’ said Gordon, ‘the cook won’t be happy without a skivvy to do all the messy work.’
He could see by the way he was dressed that Sparky had no proper sea going gear so he suggested he could use Bob’s old kit. The previous galley boy wasn’t going to need it whilst they removed his appendix at the hospital.
With time running out, they reported aboard the trawler and found the Skipper in his cabin. He looked very bad tempered and was swearing at the first mate about things Sparky had never even heard of.
‘What the ‘ell do you want Mac Bride?’ he shouted as they stood outside the cabin. ‘Beg pardon sir, but I think I’ve found us a galley boy,’ he replied, pointing at Sparky. The big Skipper looked Sparky up and down, then glanced at the clock on the bulkhead. ‘Can yer read and write lad?’ he said, ‘and how old are yer?’ Sparky nodded his head and said, ‘sixteen sir.’ The Skipper mumbled something to the first mate who also looked Sparky up and down, then nodded. The Skipper told him to go with the first mate and get signed on. His pay was to be five bob a week and a small share of the catch, if he worked hard. Sparky was now almost shaking with fear, what on earth was he doing? It didn’t seem like such a good idea now, but it was too late. The next thing he knew, he was signing a page in a large logbook, and was then taken by Gordon into a dark, smelly, cramped space below decks. He told Sparky to change his kit, and passed him Bobs sea bag.
The next few hours were simply terrifying as Sparky was engulfed in the sounds of shipboard life; engines growling, orders being issued and big winches clanking and banging.
As they cleared the harbour and thrust their way into the Irish Sea, waves and spray showered down all over the decks and the trawler began to roll and corkscrew as she settled into a force six head-wind.
Sparky found his way to the galley where he reported to the cook, who was a big fat man with a red face and monster hands, the biggest he had ever seen. The cook shouted something to him, and pointed to a huge tub of black-looking potatoes. He couldn’t understand a word the cook was saying but realised he was expected to start peeling, and fast… Sparky was convinced he was going to die, and prayed for his mum and dad to forgive him. As often happens, things got worse. A deckhand told him to report to the Skipper on the bridge. He wasn’t quite sure where that was but guessed it might be up top where he thought the ship’s wheel was located. The look of thunder which greeted him on the face of the Skipper told him his game was up, and he fully expected to be thrown overboard at any moment. Sparky’s life as a fisherman was over and a few hours later they were sailing into Fleetwood docks.
Price: £10.16 (Paperback); £5.15 (Kindle Edition).