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Richard Longstaff: Beyond Watford - disability arts online
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Fragments / 1 April 2014

watercolour illustration of a knitted boat sailing across a sea laden with fish under a sun with a large round face on it

Knitting Time illustration. Image © Colin Hambrook

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A brief event. Why is it that these tiny fragments of memory seem to remain with us for so long and yet a major event, prolonged and drawn out soon fades?

The choice of poem for this blog is based on events that took place in my early teen years. At that time my late brother owned a small fishing trawler. Every summer and half term holiday from school would be spent fishing with him. Three and four day trips to the seas off of Ireland or sometimes further afield. It was a wonderful time and gave me a deep love for the sea.

We would return and sell the catch. Good money made, off to the pub for an orange juice for me and pints and rum chasers for the rest of our crew. From time to time new faces would be seen. A crew from France, Ireland or as in the case of the poem, Orkney would slip into port, sell their catch and turn up in the Victoria pub.

As a young man I found it all fascinating. All these strange accents and characters. I would sit and listen, watch their movements. I would look at the reactions of the locals, most friendly, some such as the baker - happy to take their money and at the same time full of nasty comments. The young barmaid, Jane Timms, eyes all over the young Dane, who’s name escapes me. How sad we learnt of his death soon after. A clear demonstration of the cruelty of the sea and the risks taken by those that earn their living from it.

All these memories, fragments, brief and small and yet printed are deep into my mind. So I ask you to think. Dig deep, think of a brief moment that for what ever reason keeps returning to your mind. Ask yourself why it carries such weight? Try if you can to read the poem by the sea. If you don’t have the ocean on your doorstep then read it in the bath. 

From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

Port of Call, the Westray Men

They came in on an autumn tide, three
Weather worn faces from Orkney,
Westray was cracked, letters diminishing
With each journey.
Thirst quenched at the Victoria and slept
Off on Dawlish sands,
The young Dane caught the eye of Jane
Timms it was said, he rolled

Up at Spurn Point not a year later, tangled
In orange nets with finger nails missing.
But at the time no one thought beyond the
Next round,
Cullen, the priest blessed each head and the
'Swordfish' at the far quay, all was well.
So they drank and sang, a whistle to the
Door each time it opened, each

Welcome made. Cod was gold, Mackerel
No more than bait,
Cards heated knuckles until blood was
Drawn with cries of “cheat”.
They left with oilskin waves and a stern
“Good riddance” from baker Sam Russell,
The duck and dive of the wheelhouse soon
Disappeared behind the harbour break.

 © Richard Longstaff