The Trawler Basin

The Trawler Basin

That tangle of beams and nets and ropes
Might well be mistaken for a metal arboretum but
There are no robot squirrels here.
You!, caged whales in a concrete dock,
Shackled together as slaves on a swell,
You’re nodding your bows as if each
An adventurer’s remembrance of
Channel fog, white horses, force six storms,
The biggest, toughest load you ever hauled

As callous hands winch and yank, at one
With the rolling seas, you, with your
Portholes perhaps pining for the quay’s embrace,
Where gathered your beams tower and peer
Like giraffes from their zoo enclosure, you,
Named for wives, girlfriends, daughters, fathers,
Ungainly, cormorants with wings folded, oh,
I think I’ve run out of metaphors now.

A morning’s diesel throb cast off you’ll seek
Invisible bounty by sonar glow, hands numbed
By cold clutching metal cups at the wheel,
How many souls have stroked your innards and
Uttered a silent trawlerman’s prayer?
Keep us safe, return us once more, I have a
Life and a bank account and Davy Jones is no friend of mine,
And that, up there in the lines, is that a winch,
Or a robot squirrel? The cold, the dark,
The long hours, they do strange things to a soul.

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.

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.

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.