Hive of activity on the hottest day of the year

On the hottest day of the year I went down to the docks and just watched the trawlers and those working on and around them.

Hive of activity on the hottest day of the year

Welders and painters, sparks flying
From angle grinders, clouds of
Black exhaust, electricity generators,
Shouts and yelling and drilling and movement
And fork lifts and pick-ups and crates
Of fresh catch fish ice packed and
Unloaded as ropes are slung and
Boats tied secure and everywhere a motion
‘Of individuals and yellow wellies and
Sweat brows wiped and amidst all
This toil unnoticed across the trawler
Basin entrance, a lone paddle-boarder,
Vain and so painfully superfluous.

All-night humming at the ice factory

One of the most unsettling things of living in Brixham is the presence of a perpetual hum. Not everyone can hear it and these hums have also been heard in other places around the world. Some people reckon that this is a supernatural manifestation. And while I’m not discounting that, the most likely explanation for Brixham is that it is the ice factory down on the quay, manufacturing ice for the trawlers to use for their catch.

All-night humming at the ice factory

At night I dream of the ice factory
Manufacturing glittered frost under corrugated iron,
Snow on cue, sleet on demand,
I dream as it chills the night for me
And glaciers the dawn.

Three in the morning, in sweated sheets
Flung aside!
Windows open and not a breath of air,
There’s a humming noise coming from the quay.
What could that purring
Possibly be?

I’d like a snowdrift, please,
And ice so fine you can
See right through it!
I want to see my breath
In the trawler lights!

The sweat is rolling down my face,
And the hum, that’s just adding to the
Intensity of it all,
And a throb of engines too,
The sweat is rolling down my face.
Don’t tease me.
Freeze me.
be my icy queen!

Get me through this night!

At night I dream of the ice factory,
An ice conveyer belt and iced up workers,
Hauling ice and shovelling ice
And moaning about the cold.
Snow on cue, sleet on demand,
Blizzarding the morning as the sun rises
Over the trawler basin
And I moan and sweat as a clock strikes three.


Today’s poem is the title poem of this whole Squidbox project, I suppose!


Of all the buckets,
Containers, plastic tubs,
Amid forklift reverse hooters,
Shouting, throbbing
Trawler engines, plastic
Yellow coats, wellies,
High viz,
Of all the buckets
Of the aforementioned
None can be more repulsive
The squidbox.

Deep sea dreams and
Night time beam trawlers
Dipping down on wave vales
Off the coast of Wales
With sonar and shouting,
Excitable as the net is
Brought up dripping
For commerce, there
Is no sport in this

And thence homewards
With a belly full of tubs trays
Buckets boxes profit gain
And rusty flanks from dripping nets
The loving embrace of a concrete

The squidbox
Under fluorescent lights stark.

Interview with a Trawlerman

Interview with a Trawlerman

Do you ever get tired of the physicality?
(Oh, the long hours, you mean,
The perpetual activity, the sea,
The lifting, sorting, winching,
The aching bones?)

Do you ever think of potential danger?
(Oh, you mean the mysterious depths,
The odd dynamics, the nets,
A broken beam puncturing below the waterline?)

Do you ever wish you were at home?
(Oh, you mean
Absolute comfort?)

Would you ever miss the camaraderie ?
(Oh, the bonds that form, the jokes,
The shared belief, the adventures,
That friendly bunch of faces, the fact
That we all care for each other even when
We say that we don’t?)

Do you ever worry?
(Oh, if only
There were time).

Do you ever feel at one with the sea?
(Ah, but does the sea ever feel
At one with me?)

Do you ever feel odd, walking on solid ground
After days on the brine?
(Oh, you mean that feeling of permanence,
Which is negated by the idea that time and life
Are always in constant motion, the ultimate example
State of the universe being chaos?)

Do you ever look at a fish and think, what on earth is that?
(Do you ever think they have similar thoughts about me?)

Have you ever seen a mermaid?
(Oh, you mean that old sailor’s lament, the
Eternal wistfulness of the romantic mariner,
Mists curling in on a calm flat surface,
Drops of dewy moisture clung in his beard,
Wrinkled face pondering on better days,
Circumnavigators making up excuses for the
Slow madness of a life at sea?)

Do you ever sing sea shanties?
(There was that time in the Wetherspoons we all
Sat down and belted out It’s Raining Men).

General synopsis

General synopsis

There’s a storm forecast.
Nobody’s going out today.
Waves are crashing over
The breakwater.
The wind whistles in the beams.
It sounds like the Arctic.

In houses, cottages, living rooms,
Trawler folk drum fingers
On coffee tables as
Rain rolls down window panes.

Tied to the quay,
Metalk hulks bob on a swell.
Security lights gleam from
Wet concrete.
The fish pallets are stacked.
Everything is squeaking.

Plymouth, Portland, Lundy, Sole.
General synopsis
South-west storm force.

There’s a storm forecast.
Wind blows the rain horizontal.
A shopkeeper stands in a doorway.
There’s no-one around.

The trawlers.
They nod to each other
And share stories
Of rust and other ailments.
Tethered three abreast
In case they escape.


We ride up,
Hold it there just for a second,
Then drop down, down,
Tingle in your stomach,
A grey angry foam-dotted wall,
The vehemence of nature,
How small we are.

I find comfort in the smallest things.
The sweep of the windscreen wiper.
No matter how precarious,
It keeps on sweeping.
It still does its job.

After a while you get into the rhythm,
Become at one with the sea.
It sets out its rules, and you obey,
Though every now and then
A freak wave, some dissonance,
A jarring note to make sure
You’re paying attention.

And the old trawler, she
Creaks just like ships on films,
Juddering, straining, throbbing.
Hold on, here comes a big one.

You OK down there, cook?
He’s bashing out an omelette.
I don’t know how he does it.

The Fish Market has gone online

I chatted to a trawlerman and he loved his job but the one thing he regretted was the fact that there’s no longer an actual fish market. It’s a sign of the future, he said. Everything is online these days.

The fish market has gone online

The fish market has gone online
And with it, the soul of a town whose
Existence is built on danger,
Humour rejecting the obvious over these
Hard-won trawls, a place to display
The catch of the day
And to laugh, and joke, and josh, and gibe
And welcome home the weary crew.

Under white fluorescent lights
In an atmosphere so clinical as to
Bely the sweat and grime of its industry,
(Not like the old days when
They’d slam the fish down on the pavement),
A ballet of lab technicians these
Restauranteurs and dealers in their white coats,
White walls, white trays filled with white ice,
Even in this,
There was camaraderie.

The dance of figures tripping from the auctioneer’s tongue,
A babble and confusion of numbers and percentage notations,
Earnest bartering, a price laid on each in
Humanistic terms, labour weighted and fortunes made public
Amid the gleam and sheen this raucous machine
Of social tradition and occasional profanity,
The eternal search for the highest bidder
Budgeted and boisterous and occasionally brave,
Face to face, seller, sailor, trawler.

There’s a relief at the heart of it, each transaction is
Gritty in so many ways but greeted eye to eye,
A shake of the hand, a pat on the back, a grin, a smile,
A joke.
The only connection now is broadband.
The heart of the community is a click of a mouse.

Squidbox : Homecoming

This week I embarked on a new project, writing a sequence of poems about the Brixham fishing industry, with the help of Torbay Culture and the Arts Council. Fishing is a major part of Brixham life and has been so for hundreds of years, and the town has the biggest fishing fleet in the UK. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get to know exactly what it is that makes people want to go out on the high seas and risk their lives week after week.

This is the first poem from what, hopefully, will become a sequence. Homecoming is inspired by watching the trawlers come back home after a long stint at sea.

A lonely dot on a wild wild sea,

A nestle of rigs and beams, a mess

Of rust with nets slung low,

Giant spools and ropes slack dripping brine.

The hairpin concrete bend of jutted brick breakwater,

Of faded dead slow lettering, a test of time,

Scratched and blotched this tub sides a-slap

With the remnants of a sea bed scoured,

Hauled loads from sonar technology blips. At night

Each bunk holds dreams or high sea murmurs

As plastic macks drip dry, this metal tin

Of deckhand muscle, winches, graft, sweat.

They gain their sea legs, these sons and daughters.

A throb of diesel purrs the shuddering deck

And slantwise rain in a spotlight’s glare,

Bow break waves and quayside forklifts, home, home.

Seaside Soul, a Poem for Paignton

Today’s daily poem podcast is a poem about the town I live in!

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An poem about Paignton.

I wrote this a while ago. It’s about the town where I live. It’s a strange little place.


Take a walk with me a while
Amid the gleaming downtown edifices of
This Devonian utopia,
The night pounding rhythms of
Bawdy talk and seagull squawk,
How could any soul not submit?
The Neon shining brightly nightly
Brash words info the ether,
Soup of the day,
Have you paid and displayed?
The all day breakfast
Is only served till midday.
Hushed tones hint at pride,
Just a whisper of this town’s name
Instills a quiet awe,
Oh, Paignton.

Here did philosophers dream
And hold their sway
The jewel of Torbay
Hellegevoetsluis Way
Big bands and jazz hands
A smile, a laugh
A night on the town
A punch in the schnozz at Winstons,
Oh, Paignton.

Verily did I dream of this and that,
A kiss me quick hat
And shops selling tat
Groovy nightclubs and movie scenes
The beautiful, the obscene,
Twirl me across the dance floor once more!
And then honking up in a taxi,
Oh, Paignton.

Dreaming big and living large,
Life in all its grace sublime,
It’s skyline replete with
Architectural wonder, Edwardian villas,
The stylised Victorian pier,
How just a glimpse causes my heart
To thump and jive with
A sultry palpitation,
Garfield Road car park and the bus station,
Oh, Paignton.

Wordsmiths and poets feint at its beauty,
Wordsworth was said to have cried
At its sheer sublimity
My mother also looked at it and cried
But that was for entirely different reasons,
Oh, Paignton.

This city of dreams,
This glitch in time,
Peak mugging hours are four till nine,
Many a hapless soul has gazed
Upon the sleek facade of the
Poundland Building and felt
The mundanity of their existence
Shouting out to the world as if
Declaiming their faith,
How worthless am I,
How worthless am I,
Oh, Paignton.

My friend Jim lives here
And gets an orgasm every time he sees the town,
He mostly keeps his curtains closed,
Oh, Paignton.

The famous names,
Personalities of merit and celebration,
How many names
Come from this mighty conurbation,
Household names like Sue Barker
And . . . .
Oh, Paignton.

The fizz
The rhythms
The heat
That metropolitan burn
That inner city beat
Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
Fighting off a seagull for a battered sausage
Gasping in wonder at the towers so chic
Stocking up on novelty gift farting gnomes
The romance of Lidls Neon reflected on wet paving slab
Romantic Latin music and a snog in Crossways
This sensual town
This gleaming barnacle
This paradise dank
This magical place
Oh, oh, oh!