A September Saturday in 1995 the four a.m. sea air is salt-sour silicate sand shimmers under the after-midnight-blue canopy the waning moon a spotlight on discarded worm skins
I dig since I’m the youngest – because even morning fishing trips have hierarchies – success arrives after ten minutes of shovel and scoop we loot the fresh bait they can wriggle all they want we own them now
we march in early morning muteness preserving our energy until we can cast off and pour ourselves a flask-coffee topped with a nip of whisky
destination reached we pick our spots wisely or not our rods are set with hands stained with dying worm-dye
waiting for the first ripple or bend of pole the craic is quiet about the things men like to talk about as dawn passes over us
an hour passes by then three of five rods begin to quiver the ancient part of our hunter-brains spike our natural instincts
we let our rods sway luring in the line tenderly then reel rapidly drawing in a decent-sized pollock the crack of the baton gives me the first of a few fish caught before the nearby B&B’s serve their breakfasts.
After some further success we head back to the van our shoal are all fair sizes my pollock glimmering longest in the bucket but hierarchies exist and I may get landed with a small plaice but where there are hierarchies there are rites of passage and it’s the first fish i’ve caught so I get to keep it
I also get to gut all the catch my fumbling numb fingers dyed crimson by dead fish find their rhythm and I’m proud to be on the first rung of the hunter’s hierarchy.
I used to go fishing in Northumberland regularly, this poem is about when i first started out, I was 12. One of our neighbours took me with his friends, it was always a great experience.
We called the travelling funfair “The Shows” the same way our parents did when they arrived in The Wick late summer excitement that smelled of hot sugared doughnuts, flowing diesel and damp trampled grass the air was always a kaleidoscope of flickering lightbulbs and brightly painted plywood shrill screams of exhiliration could be heard over a mile away layered over a techno soundtrack thumping with the pulses of waltzer-spun teens and kids riding the ghost train anticipating the supersoaker squirt on exit sometimes I liked to play the bandits tuppence to ten-pence a go so nothing to lose really the games were good to – one night I hooked six banana-yellow ducks and walked home with six goldfish struggling to hold the punch balloon and pink-pillow candy floss in my other hand it was a great time to be alive amongst crowded smiles and double denim spending my paper round and pocket money like fun was going out of fashion and just the other day I saw an internet flyer “The Shows” are back this year travelling up and down the coast and although I’ll not see them I can taste the air –
the flavour of excitement.
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I almost drowned once down near the mill swimming the current of the Coquet three quarters of the way across my legs lost power against the undertow I’m lucky Peck kept his eyes on me as the river reeds wrapped around ankles my head bobbing up and down like a braeburn on bonfire night and the rest of the boys jumped back in like working-class Hasselhoffs and pulled me to the side they were much stronger swimmers than me
a quick rest and pat on the back spitting up some of the river then swigging back some calming Carling the realisation – dawned on me – I had to swim back facing a new fear head on because backstroke was no good I’m lucky I’ve got such great mates we swam back together like geese fly – in formation – reaching the riverbank’s safety and although my swimming didn’t improve that day my character did.
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I felt it was an insult that each new street was named after a different species of tree they chopped down a lasting dedication to rapid decimation of the ancient woodland and hedgerow their deaths were dealt so swiftly that the hawthorn berries didn’t even get time to bleed.
Now when I walk past Oak Avenue, Ash Drive & Beech Terrace each brimming with life I think of the bricks, mortar and glass I believe the woodland remains just in a different guise and the dedication isn’t an insult but a celebration of what came before that the trees that once thrived there are a solid foundation for new roots to form.
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A cornflower sky littered haphazardly with spluttering wispy pearls housing an effortless sun watched over us as we dangled and dropped twigs of beech, ash and elm into the dawdling waters below our knees planted porous on the sandstone bridge absorbing some of its history our eyes followed the branches ferrying along the river stroking and slapping against limestone and basalt we were quiet and thoughtful wondering where they’d end up wondering where we’d end up and although sometimes silence can be deafening on that day the silent moments we shared only spoke of our serenity with each other.
velvet sand tickling my back blades of crystal water cutting away doubt driftwood logs silently whispering sea shanties a carefree horizon casually glances feeling content as do I a connection with nature always nurtures.
This is inspired by days spent on Northumbrian beaches, always serene.
early morning with the light muted the sky still a patchwork of slate and coal they set sail favours asked of Pontus & Poseidon hoping they are heard over the wailing gulls and terns they yearn for a return to bountiful days and bulging nets of catching shoals of silver in their pastel gilnetter on the North Sea once brimming with fish glistening just below the surface when the Captain and his Crew were daring wide eyed wanderers braving thunderous waves and caressing calm waters beating their adversaries to the best loot today they’re older grizzled and weather-worn with eyes the colour of their quarry wearing woollen hats and neon overalls they only dare to dream of a fair catch and a fairer price hoping to stay afloat in a sinking industry.
This poem is inspired by the hardworking fishermen who work the North Sea. Once a booming industry in the North East, sadly it has declined over the past 20-30 years.
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