Sometimes they don’t come back

Sometimes they don’t come back

And the community
Close knit at best
Comes together.

A friend of a friend
Went to sea
And he never returned
And nor did his mate
And it felt
Like everything
Was closing in.

There’s a statue on the quay,
Man and Boy.
It became a focus
And everyone left tributes.
This town
Has no secrets.

Flames flickered
In the autumn breeze
Under overcast skies.
Floral offerings
Heartfelt outpourings
The town
A shoulder.

And the grief
Never seems to go.
It’s unimaginable.
You can’t even begin.

Souls entrust in each other
That every boat which sales
Carries an extra presence
Acknowledged but never seen.

Because
Sometimes
They don’t come back.

Seaside Soul : A Poem for Paignton

New poem! I performed this a couple of weeks ago at Paignton Palace Theatre and people have been asking to see it online. It’s a love letter to my home town of Paignton. It’s also featured in my new show Yay! The Search for Happiness, and my forthcoming book Yay!, to be published by Burning Eye.

Seaside soul.

This town is not torrid, nor tainted nor brazen,
This tornado of flavours,
Chip shops and chopsticks and packets of Quavers,
Savour its layers and nautical sailors.

Barbers and harbours and car parks and mars bars
A beer at the Pier Inn while peering at the pier thing
A stride and a stroll
But hide from the gulls your hot sausage rolls
It’s the way that we roll
With our seaside soul.

High tide drip dry nick nack paddywhack
Picnic and a packamac
Promenade flapjack
Sand in your rucksack
Sand in your flapjack
Sand in your arsecrack
Let’s go to the pub.

Cinema chick flicks
Candy floss, pick n mix
Fish n chips, kiss me quick
Think I feel sick!

Ring road surf shack seaweed stink
Caravan holiday
It’s worse than you think
Dodgy dodgy plumbing and a blocked up sink.
Big bands and jazz hands, gleaming sands and
One night stands
You probably will not understand
It’s ain’t no hole
With your seaside soul.

Amusements, bemusement,
Soup of the day
The all day breakfast
Only served till midday
Have you paid and displayed?
Grab your bucket and spade!
You’ll never be dismayed
Memories fade
But your heart will always stay.

This frisky town this sea breezy town
This cream tea scene of green seas and freezing dips
Donkey rides and cheesy chips
Ice cream by the bowl
We’ve got seaside soul.

Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
The hot pulse of life adding fire to my brain
The legs of the pier stride deep in the brine
Let’s dance once more time, say you’ll be mine
We laugh and we grin and we howl at the ships
The night is afire and it smells just like chips
You bend for a kiss like a child with a doll
You asked what’s for dinner, I said, seaside soul.

We are Brixham

I’ve had a great month (and summer) getting to know the people of Brixham and writing poems about their fishing industry, its importance, history and culture.

We are Brixham

Amid the pontoons and jetties, the wind whistle
Through yacht mast rigging,
The stone breakwater a loving arm,
The harbour calm.
Amid the trawler bustle and diesel throb, the hum,
The roar, the continual movement,
Night-lights of long-distance trawlers
In their humdrum heroic return,
We are Brixham.

Amid the labyrinthine narrow lane cottages kissing
Face to face over alleyway cobbles,
Amid the crafty cats and shoals of sprats,
And bearded trawlermen in blue cloth caps,
Amid the grind and wheeze of autumn’s first breeze,
Of chilled fingers numbed by winter’s first freeze,
We are Brixham.

Amid the rust and plants and smuggling haunts
And quayside pubs where sea legs find their own solidity
On the moving deck of life itself,
Amid the gift shops and chip shops and ship hulls
And sea gulls and old father time his
Beard soaked in brine,
We are Brixham.

Amid the local lore, the drunk pub bore,
The concrete remnants of the Second World War,
The plastic floats, the high-viz coats,
The loaded totes from chugging boats,
The sea serene, the sea-scape scene, the holiday dreams
Of vanilla ice cream, the trawler beams,
The harbour walls, midnight pub brawls,
The pirate ghost ghouls, the mechanic with his tools,
The people, the town, the community and life,
We are Brixham.

Little Ostend

In 1940, a flotilla of Belgian fishing craft crossed the Channel, a perilous journey under the circumstances, in boats piled high with furniture, food and belongings. Their families were on board, too. Having spent the 1930s fishing alongside Brixham folk, and with warm memories of Brixham and its harbour, it seemed a natural place to come and seek shelter when the Nazis marched into their home town. They arrived in the middle of the night and the town welcomed them, opening the shops and baking bread, and bringing water down to the quay to help the arrivals. The Belgians became a part of Brixham everyday life during the war, and when the war ended, they left in a fleet of double decker buses from Bolton Cross, the whole town coming out to wave them off.

Some of them stayed behind as wives, husbands, lovers.

Little Ostend

Send us your Belgians!
Not the usual rallying cry.
From Ostend they came,
Families and furniture piled
In a foreign fishing fleet
Welcomed by the town
In the middle of the night.

Shops were opened,
Bakeries into business,
Water taken to the quay
For these fisher refugees,
Whose home towns were
Quivering under the Nazi march,
And all was hopeless.

Over a thousand souls
A part of Brixham life,
In the shops and pubs and clubs,
Belgians whose knowledge
Of trawling methods was gladly accepted,
Belgians who became friends, and lovers,
And husbands and wives.

They served in cafes,
And schooled their children,
And plied their craft on trawlers,
Brixham, this Little Ostend,
This welcoming town
Proving that when humanity is at its worst,
It can also be at its best.

Take heed fellow humans,
That goodness will always prevail
And a heart will aim to share its warmth.
A town reaching out its fingers to another
Whose soul is in peril,
A trawler in a storm ,
The loving curve of the breakwater.

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.

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.

A scream for the sea

A Scream for the Sea

Landlubbers!
Shipwrecks!
Grockels!
Ahoy!

Climb the masts!
In the brig!
Avast ye!
Ahoy!

Breakwater!
Saltwater!
Tidewater!
Ahoy!

Where are the giant squid?
Where are the dolphin pods?
Where are the lobster pots?
Ahoy!

And the trawlers
In their port
Look like giraffes
In the zoo
Ahoy!

Salt encrusted
Barnacle clung
Metal rusted hull!
Ahoy!

This long concrete arm
Protects us from harm
Calm our harbour
Ahoy!

We feel them deep inside
The tears of those who died
Washed ashore with every tide
Ahoy!

Weary legged trawler sailors
Bearded boat captains
Deck hands and net-menders,
Ahoy!

A bobbing anchored light
A rhythmic flashing sight
A beacon in the night
A buoy!

A prayer for the wind
Some salt for the soul
A scream for the sea
Ahoy!