The Sea Monster

This story is absolutely one hundred percent true.

The Sea Monster

Playing cards below deck.
Jack’s got a good hand,
You can see it in his eyes.
Freddie’s in the galley and he’s
Clanging pots, the radio’s playing.

And all the time the engine’s throbbing,
Skipper Steve is in the wheelhouse,
He’s been doing this longer
Than anyone can remember.
The new guy looks a bit green.

It’s a squally night, said on a sea which heaves
Like the belly of a monk with trapped wind.
Our lonely vessel, the Unsinkable 2,
Was being tossed a-hither as if Mother Nature was
A bored teenager, and we were nought but a
Can of Pepsi
Idly thrown from hand to hand.

Of a sudden there came a crash and a splash and the
Slimy scaly suckered limb
Of a giant octopus
Smashed through the starboard porthole
And flailed around inside the bunks and sleeping quarters
Of the Unsinkable 2,
As tough Trawlermen gasped and flung themselves around,
Another scaly tentacle crashed through the door
And prodded and probed some more.
We were doomed!

At that moment our fearless captain, brave and courageous
Steve,
Clambered down from the wheelhouse,
Cried
Take off your shirts, lads! And line tight in a row!
That this briney beast may feel you with its accursed tentacles
And assume it to be the teeth of its natural predator,
The giant whale!
A natural reflex will cause it to retreat
Back to its ocean lair!

So we did as he bidded, each one of us
Bare chested and quivering as the tentacles slithered
Along our sweat soaked chests,
Then watched aghast as it let out a shiver
And just like Captain Steve had said,

Retreated back to the deep through the door and the porthole,
That we remained undefeated.

And jubilant cries rang out, never before did trawlermen
Jibber and tremble, their eyes lit with a sudden intensity,
That life may so quickly be plucked from them.
At that moment there came a ferocious knock on the starboard
Porthole
And with dread we saw the octopus there once more,
Watched dumbfounded as it
Reached in and left
The biggest toothbrush you’ve ever seen.

The Skipper’s Decision

The Skipper’s decision

In the old days
They’d come aboard
Worse for wear,
I suppose you could say.

Nothing worse
Than a hungover crew,
Mardy from the offset,
So I said,
Lads,
No drinking on board.

Which makes the first
Day or so
Particularly uncomfortable,
But they sober up.
They go through that zone.

Early in the morning,
Gliding past the stone breakwater,
They’re very quiet.
And I am too, I suppose.
Coffee is OK.
Whatever else they’d need
To put a layer between themselves
And the world.

This is my life

This is my life

I don’t know how it started.
Did a favour for a mate,
Went out on his skipper’s boat,
Liked the money
And before long it was just kind of assumed
I’d be there.
Fifteen years ago, now.
Been on three different boats.

It’s not all work.
On that hot day,
That really hot day last year,
Millpond sea,
Skipper and the lads, we all dived in.
Weird seeing the boat
From the outside.

And my mate?
The one who got me into all this?
He don’t do it anymore.
Works as a supermarket delivery driver.

I only wanted enough to buy
A place of my own,
A place for me and the wife.
And now,
This is my life.

The Battle of the Eastern Scruff

During the First World War, Brixham trawlers would often find themselves under attack from German U-Boats. One of the most famous encounters would be remembered as the ‘Battle of the Eastern Scruff’. Alas the only casualty was the ship’s cat from one of the vessels. It’s all now part of Brixham folk lore.

The Battle of the Eastern Scruff

The tin fish surfaced amid the Brownsail fleet,
A deep dive menace in manufactured metal so shiny and so sleek
Taking aim without a sound and peppering ships with shells,
Splintered jibs and sullied sails to sink to their watery hells.

Sometimes a soul acts braver than it ordinarily could.
The sea became a jumbled mess of ropes and sail and wood.
A bullhorn grabbed, a skipper yelled the first thing he could blurt,
‘Stop it now, you silly fools, or someone will get hurt!’

Some boats made sail and hauled in nets, began to drift afar.
Others braved a hail of shells losing masts and booms and spar.
A boiler bursts with repeated hits spewing smoke and flame and steam,
A cacophony of tangled wrecks now circled the submarine.

Ship after ship disabled now, shrapnel and shot galore,
Broken decks and tangled nets this outpost of an uncalled war
Till all at once as if their thirst at last was suddenly sated
The firing stopped, the fishing fleet was torn and emaciated.

When hearts are strong and souls laid bare and fortune is a dance,
When fate steps in enmeshed with luck and quirks of circumstance,
Not a soul did waver nor for their safety choose to weep
A day which started normally now threatened with the briny deep.

Yet not a life was lost that day and of the boats only two,
Towed to port or rescued by their fellow fishing crew.
Welcomed home by onlookers limping wrecked and ruined and rough,
Wide-eyed men with tales to tell of the battle of the Eastern Scruff.

One hundred years and more have passed as I wandered on the quay
To ponder on this episode and such high-seas gallantry,
And tales of fortitude and pride and undoubted bravery
Of souls unwittingly tied forever with Brixham history.

It’s just what you do in this town

This quick poem is based on an anecdote told to me by a fisherman.

It’s just what you do in this town

‘It’s just what you do in this town.
I know more who’ve been out at sea
Than haven’t.
I remember my old neighbour
Having a hospital appointment in Torquay.
It’ll be the first time I’ve left Brixham
In forty-eight years, he said,
On something other than a boat . . .
The next time I guess
Will be in a coffin’.

This is my life

This is my life

I don’t know how it started.
Did a favour for a mate,
Went out on his skipper’s boat,
Liked the money
And before long it was just kind of assumed
I’d be there.
Fifteen years ago, now.
Been on three different boats.

It’s not all work.
On that hot day,
That really hot day last year,
Millpond sea,
Skipper and the lads, we all dived in.
Weird seeing the boat
From the outside.

And my mate?
The one who got me into all this?
He don’t do it anymore.
Works as a supermarket delivery driver.

I only wanted enough to buy
A place of my own,
A place for me and the wife.
And now,
This is my life.

Poet in Residence on a Beam Trawler

POET IN RESIDENCE ON A BEAM TRAWLER

Cod, halibut, mackerel, rainbow mullets,
Brown turges, narrow-eyes loomheads,
Grand flappers, suspended marlin,
Norwegian screamers, ribbon-tailed Kenneths,
Sole, turbot, plaice, haddock,
Bulbous flatfish, flounder, spasm ray,
Honey roasted dogfish, the common eel,
To name but twenty species of fish.
And scampi, that’s twenty one.

And me? I think I’m gonna spew,
This old rusty tub flung round like
That Danish weather girl in the
Last series of Strictly,
Last night I honked up in my
Left welly
And only remembered this morning
When I put it on.

The trawlermen here have all got nicknames.
Stinky Sam is our captain,
I’d follow him to the ends of the earth, I would!
And Stinky James, our cook,
And Stinky Jim, who looks after the engine,
And Stinky Bill and Stinky Keith,
Who gut the fish.
These are the nicknames
That I’ve given them.

I was so cold last night
That my nipples went really big.
I had a weird dream
That I was stroking a caterpillar.
And in the morning Stinky Keith said,
‘Gosh, my moustache feels really smooth’.

Oh, the banter!
This morning I was laughingly called
A barnacle-encrusted puke-soaked
Impertinent half-witted buttock,
And I said,
‘Nice to hear from you too, Mum.’

Out on deck,
Hauling in a big load with Stinky Jim.
‘Do trawlers often sink?’, I yelled,
Above the clatter of the engine.
He replied, ‘usually only the once’.

Gutting fish with Stinky Bill,
He’s seen it all, has Stinky Bill
Looks one way, then the other,
And says,
‘Sonny Jim,
Have you ever been sexually aroused
By a walru…’.
I said ‘no.’

And a giant octopus stole my cheese sandwich
And a sperm whale
Tried to mate with us
And I was winked at
By a squid
And I’d never seen so many crabs!
And our captain was out on deck
With a jumping rope
Jumping up and down
I suppose that’s why they call him
The Skipper.

And the sea got rough
And I spent the whole afternoon
Being tossed
As the trawler rose up
Through swell and wave
And the skies spat rain
They were ever so brave
This lonely tub
On the wide wide sea
Perhaps this was the wrong moment
To tell Stinky Pete
That he would make my life complete.

He slapped me
With a gurnard.

I’m a trawler

I’m a trawler

I’m a tough floatie boater
With a proper prop and motor
I’m a hauler crawler trawler
I’m a total turbot-toter

I’m a clean pristine machine
With a spar and jib and beam
And a crew that’s green and keen
If you know just what I mean

I’m a sonar blip daytripper
With a flipping chipper skipper
Catching cod and rock and roe
For a fish’n’chip shop flipper

I’m a drippy full-net winder
I’m a shoal of fish finder
And the load I brought in tuesday
Was a whopper and a blinder

I’m a bandit fish-stock robber
I’m a diesel engined throbber
And I’ll keep you safe and warm
If you’re wearing the right clobber

I’m a chuggy flounder lugger
In some foggy muggy weather
I’m a quayside harbour parker
With a strainy ropey tether

And you’ll see me every day
In the ocean briney spray
And for my hunky bunky crew
I’m a home while I’m away.

Yay!

‘Yay’ is the title of my new book, to be published by Burning Eye, and my new solo show, both of which are due to come out in the Spring of 2021. I’ve been working on both of these projects for a couple of years and I thought I would explain what I’ve been up to.

‘Yay’ will be a collection of upbeat poems, most of which tell a story or deal with a very specific place. Some of them are a little bit silly, some of them are somewhat life affirming, some of them are downright weird! And all of them are comedic in tone. The whole collection has been designed to make you laugh or smile.

The collection was devised a couple of years ago when it seemed that the world couldn’t get any more depressing. Naturally, after I started working on the project, it then suddenly did! The book contains poems from In the Glare of the Neon Yak, and Spout, my two solo shows, as well as material from my new upcoming show which will accompany the book.

The show will be called ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’. It was written in the first few months of this year and I have begun the process of trying to learn the thing. Indeed, I have been working with a director, the wonderful Dr Maggie Irving, with some funding from Torbay Culture, and she has been instructing me in the art of mime, movement and body expression. Unlike my previous shows, ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’ will have no props at all, just myself and a microphone. So in other words, I need all the help I can get! The reason for this is simply that I wont have to lug bags and boxes of props all over the country.

I’m still working on the collection. At the moment I’m in the process of deciding which poems will definitely be included. And of course, new ones keep arriving. It’s a very exciting time at the moment!

I’m looking forward to getting the book and the show out there into the world. Fingers crossed, of course, that there will be a fringe circuit next year. But if not, I’ll find a way to bring Yay! to your town.

Sunrise

Sunrise

You become used to the toil, the noise,
The discomfort, the salt-flecked waves,
The aching limbs, the diesel throb, the
Long hours, the constant motion, the
Tight space, and the sense of being at one
With a metal craft whose upkeep insures
Your very survival.

But the sunrise is different every day.

Heading East, into a myriad of colours, the
Night lightens with a halo, or maybe a red
Stain which bleeds ever upwards, or else
Resplendent yellow setting afire the water itself,
Or maybe through a swirling mist the sun
Will be a red circle rising with a mystical intent,
Perfectly round, or perhaps the day will just
Kind of start, and we’ll be in the wheelhouse
And the skipper will say, come and see this, lads,
Come and have a look.