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.

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.

Squidbox

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

Squidbox

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
Than
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
Breakwater.

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).

Thirty years man and boy

I chatted to a trawlerman who’d done nothing else since leaving school. All he ever wanted to be was a fisherman.

Thirty years man and boy

For the sea creates sublime the mystery into which
A sprinkling of science and good knowledge of
Fish behaviour, patterns, historical trends and tides,
Like magicians, I am unable to divulge
The secrets at the heart of it lest less
Moral skippers may learn my methods;
Nonetheless let it be said that I often point my craft
Away from the fleet, tap into knowledge and
Then return with bigger loads; are you
Familiar with the methodology? And of course,
A hint of guesswork.

Thirty years man and boy, I’ve not done anything else,
Got my sea legs but even I spent the first six months
Spewing into a bucket, had to hide it,
Didn’t want the others to think I was soft or
Not cut out for this, but the sunrise over the
Eastern sea when you stare up the Channel that,
Oh, that can lift you and it lasts all day, a
Bright sun over a flat calm sea and you just know
It’s going to be a good haul.

In the dead of night in fluorescent glare I
Toil amid the flung sea spray salt lipped
In the inky boiling mass whose mystery is a
Locker that even the bravest dare not ponder,
Treacherous death washed with every foam-topped wave,
The craft itself rocking, you really don’t want
To think of the dynamics as the nets slung each side
Reach down ever so into oblivion, there are
Mechanics at work here that can be
Truly frightening, you just don’t want to think.

In a bed-warm slumbers my wife and kids and
While I envy their comfort, my toil makes it so,
Industry and sweat into eiderdown and a full fridge,
While those loving arms propel me forwards, further,
More exuberant, before beckoning me home that I
May regain my strength on the sofa surrounded by love.
What kind of amnesiac goes back?
But as I say, thirty years man and boy, and
The sea – oh, it runs through my veins.

Rough

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.