Wilhelmina J

Today, April 10th 2021, is the thirtieth anniversary of the sinking of the Portsmouth based scallop trawler Wilhelmina J.

Wilhelmina J, a 26m beam trawler left Portsmouth on April 9, 1991, to trawl for scallops in the English Channel near fishing grounds known as Horseshoe Bank. But at 2am on April 10, the vessel was involved in a collision during foggy conditions with MV Zulfikar, a 142m Cyprus-registered cargo ship.

All six members of the Wilhelmina J’s crew were lost.

The six men who died were; Jeff Alan Venters, Michael James Bell, Mark Warwick Fitz, Christopher Clifford Thomas, Guy Ransom Davies and Matthew James Hodge.

Their names are on a plaque in Old Portsmouth Fishermans Quay, a memorial in the Old Portsmouth cathedral and a plaque in the Bridge Tavern pub.

I didn’t know any of the crew, but wrote a poem about the sinking a number of years ago. It’s based around the marine accident report summary of what happened that night.

It is one poem in a long sequence of poems, (currently unpublished), themed around my running the perimeter of Portsea Island whilst training for marathons – the circa 16 mile run goes past the small fishing harbour where the Wilhelmina J was based. I thought now was as good a time as any to share it here (it was previously published in South Poetry and on the Places of Poetry website.

I read the poem at an event in Southsea and someone came up to me afterwards saying they knew one of the families who had lost someone, and asked me for a copy of the poem (which I gave them, obviously), so that they could give it to them. I can’t imagine that it helped in any way. But maybe it did.

My thoughts today are with the families of those who were lost. I can only imagine what they have gone through over these years, what they are going through today.

I’ve posted a link at the bottom of this post to the donation page for the RNLI who, whilst they couldn’t have done anything in this case, save hundreds of lives each year around our shores. I raised money for the RNLI the first time I ran the Great South Run. It’s a charity I have a lot of time for.

Wilhelmina J

At sea
it is the small decisions that count;
to rely on assumptions,
or not,
to check all frequencies
make sure your lookout is on watch,
or not,
to see a shape in the swirling dark
in the shifting canvas of fog

As always
a series of coincidences
of misunderstandings and mistakes
and not,
this damp wool-blanket of a night
heavy on ship and water alike,
and not
names on a plaque in the Bridge Tavern
in the apportioning of blame.

And so,
running past a pile of lobster pots
a chiller trailer and fishing boats,
is not
the time to think of giving in
to aches and pains of inconsequence,
but is
the point to pick up your heels
and live life fast as long as you can.

If you wish to support the work of the RNLI, please go to;

https://rnli.org/support-us/give-money/donate

Places of Poetry Book Launch

It’s the day after National Poetry Day – I should have posted something yesterday, but much of my day was taken up with dealing with a deceased fridge-freezer. Anyway, this film has been released about a wonderful project I was involved with – Places of Poetry is a website where people posted poems on a map of England & Wales. It is open for additional poems to be posted until the 10th of October.

One of my poems was chosen to be filmed, and a book was made of some of the contributions.I’ve shared the poem here before – this film isn’t of the poem itself, but is about the project – and the results of the interviews of two other poets and myself who were filmed reciting our poems.

The book was launched last night, with this accompanying film. If you are having a tough time at the moment, or even if you aren’t maybe try reading or writing some poetry?

Nice also to give my home city a bit of publicity

Remembering the Wild Mouse

Sometimes the past rushes back in an instant. It doesn’t take much. I was on Facebook yesterday, completing a song-title list challenge;

Ok music lovers — here are the rules:Answer each category with a SONG TITLE. No repeats and don’t use the internet (it’s tempting but try not to). Go with the first song that comes to mind, change the answers to your own.

My list was as follows;

* Something to wear – All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit (Half Man Half Biscuit)
* Something to drink- Whisky in the Jar (Thin Lizzy)
* A Place- Lost in the Supermarket (The Clash)
* A Food – Chocolate Cake (Crowded House)
* An Animal – The Seabirds (The Triffids) – if that’s not specific enough then Hungry Like the Wolf was the second animal I thought of… (Duran Duran obv.)
* A Number – Pop Song 89 (REM)
* A Colour – Deep Red Bells (Neko Case)
* A Girl’s Name – Yolanda (Bobby Bland)
*A Boy’s Name – Joeys on the Streets Again (Boomtown Rats)
* Profession – Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect (The Decemberists)
* Day of the Week- Friday I’m in Love (The Cure)
* A Vehicle – Rollercoaster Song (Lilac Time)

Not necessarily what would be my considered choices in each category, just the first ones I thought of. That last song though. Stephen Duffy (yes, original member of Duran Duran) wrote some brilliant English folk-rock / pop songs. It remains a favourite, along with The Girl who Waves at Trains. I have great memories of singing along to both of them with the the rest of the family in our old Vauxhall Zafira. He may have written better songs, but none of them made our family holiday compilation CDs for the long journeys to Cornwall, Norfolk Scotland or Wales.

As for rollercoasters, I love them. New ones can be great – there’s a few at Thorpe Park – Saw, Stealth and Swarm – that I really like, but it’s the old wooden ones that are the best. The rattling and shaking, that slight worry that the whole thing might fall apart whilst in mid air, the inevitable bruises. What more could you want? I’ve been lucky enough to ride the Vuoristorata in Helsinki, built in 1950 and with a brakeman at the back, Cyclone, the famous Coney Island coaster (the one that Spiderman sits on in the Marvel film), which was built much earlier, (in 1927), and of course the Big Dipper (1923), Grand National (1935) and Rollercoaster (1933) at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Then there was the Wild Mouse (1958), which was pulled down in 2018. Despite appearances, it gave a huge adrenaline rush. A small track with lots of hidden sharp turns and dips and plenty of ‘air time’. We also had a Wild Mouse at Clarence Pier here in Portsmouth, which I didn’t get to go on before it was replaced. I think I was too young. But it was made of metal – It would have rotted pretty quickly if it was made of wood as it was out over the sea and often soaked in spray.

I only managed to ride the Blackpool Mouse once. It must have been almost thirty years ago. A group of friends from Middlesex Polytechnic for a catch up drinking weekend. One of them Andy ‘H’ Howard, told us how his parents courted on the same ride, thirty years or so before.

I lost contact with Andy for a number of years. He’d moved back to Droylsden in Greater Manchester, and I’d moved from London to Portsmouth and was building a new life here on the south coast. Out of the blue I received a phone call from Andy for a catch up. He’d had a really tough time, having been diagnosed with cancer. We talked about his treatment, and how he was battling the disease. I promised to visit him in Manchester when he was well enough to see visitors again. I didn’t realise he was calling to say goodbye.

I can remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. It doesn’t take much to bring it back. Just a Facebook challenge and a single song title.

The poem that follows was written a few years afterwards, and tweaked when the Wild Mouse was removed. A version has been posted on the Places of Poetry website, approximately where the ride stood on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.


Remembering the Wild Mouse


That old rollercoaster
where your parents courted,
memories pulled upwards
to the point of no recall,
unclipped at gravity’s pace.

In winter repairs,
life as a clean coat of paint,
each year of change
new as old as new.
A different same;
so with us all, as once with you.

Back at the tipping point
their hearts rising, confetti falling,
bends sharpen then straighten,
time slews so nearly splintering;
but foundations still hold,
keep rails in line.

I hear it is no more,
no last chance to renew,
as one day with us, as now with you;
when all that remains is memory,
this point beyond return.






For H

Places of Poetry

A quick post to mention that the Places of Poetry website will be live again for poems to be posted between the 1st and 11th of October.

It’s in celebration of the anthology coming out, (which I have a poem in). So if you have any place based poems (England and Wales only unfortunately) then go for it!

Oh, and here again is my video from earlier this year – I was very lucky to be one of three poets to have a poem turned into a film as a result of this project. Whatever you think of the poem itself, it’s a superbly made film.

www.placesofpoetry.org.uk for further details

Ashes

I shouldn’t be writing a blog post today.

I had managed to secure tickets in this year’s ballot for the first day of the test series against the West Indies at Lords, where I have never been for a match before. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. But it was something I had been so looking forward to. Especially as today is my 26th wedding anniversary.

Oh how I miss live sport, live music, live theatre, comedy, musicals. I don’t think the so-called leaders we have in this country at the moment realise how important these are. They certainly don’t appear to care, judging by their response so far to the desperate state most theatres and arts organisations are in at the moment. But then why should I be surprised? On purely financial terms, the arts are one of the most significant economic sectors for the UK, ( far more than say fishing). We are, or we were, global leaders in many fields. Yet arts organisations, and businesses involved in arts related fields, (such as computer gaming), which rely on freedom of movement and international collaboration have been pretty much ignored by government since Brexit.

Let alone the benefits to society, to our mental and physical health.

Did I mention Brexit? I remember going in to work the day after (24 June 2016) to be met by a few smug comments (everyone knew where my thoughts lay on this issue). Around 70% of the people I worked with at the time voted for Brexit. Four years on and with no deal more and more likely, (whether by design or ineptitude it is irrelevant), I wonder how many of them would vote for the version of Brexit we are going to get as opposed to that of the campaign lies of Cummings and co. ?

It’s a bit like the people I know who voted against electoral reform because they wanted a better type of electoral reform than that which was on offer on the ballot paper. Maybe vote differently next time, in what, 40 years or so?

Four years on from the referendum and I remain deeply saddened by its’ impact on the direction in which this country appears to be going.

I so hope that this part of this post ages badly and that Brexit, and the type of deal we end up with works out well. But I just don’t think our politicians are in any way competent enough for the task, which would be incredibly challenging even without Covid-19. Anyway, rant over.

But that’s where live music, theatre, musicals, comedy and sport events come in. They are such a useful pressure release, such a great way to feel alive, to escape from the monotonies and frustrations of everyday life. I miss them terribly.

But here we are.

If you have got this far then apologies for the rant. I’m just feeling grumpy because I’m missing the cricket. And it’s hot outside. And next door have got builders in their garden so I can’t properly relax.

We are were we are.

Still, this gives me an excuse to share another poem. This one originally appeared on the Places of Poetry website. A good poem shouldn’t need additional notes. The ones for this follow afterwards…

Ashes

It’s deepening now this evening blue,
counting stars as they pinprick through,
darkness sweeps in sure footing lost,
this trellised fence a horizon’s seam,
the sky so earthed in shaky dreams.

On my wi-fi playlist the same song replays,
pour another drink as our days decay,
to a long hot summer of a water ban,
stubble scorched grass in Victoria Park,
football and cricket and back before dark

Pete Fran Chris Ade and sometimes Steve,
final score then evening chorus so time to leave,
and walking home along Somerset Road,
and shadows locking arms on the final climb,
a row of elm and am I running low on time.

Scuffed leather skin a stitch half picked out,
sleight-of-hand spinning a googly of doubt,
corner creased photo in a battered tin box,
the energy of youth in our seventies clothes,
two months away from the Damned’s New Rose.

I could open the bowling at the County Ground,
or play the keyboards in a prog rock band,
when empty shops circle the market square,
shuttered ambitions are left fly-posted again;
I had my hopes, I guess we all did then.

This failing light too weak to forestall
will my kids ever hear a cuckoo’s call;
another cold beer as the silence grows,
no song thrush, skylark or nightingale;
the last ball bowled now we’re burning the bails.

Notes: The Victoria Park of this poem is in my home town of Frome in Somerset, not the one in the centre of Portsmouth. I used to spend much of my time growing up playing football and cricket there in pretty much all weathers, (with Pete, Fran, Chris, Ade and sometimes Steve). Not something that kids seem to as much nowadays.

The Damned’s New Rose is generally recognised as being the first punk single. It’s obviously a metaphor here of change, of growing up. A moment in time after which everything was different.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Frome of my youth was pretty run down – there were a lot of empty shops in the town centre – it’s a much more vibrant place these days.

The English Elms of my walk home, (sadly no more following the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease) and the final stanza are all, of course, references to a much greater change that we are in the middle of, against which the chaos of Brexit and my woes of missing a cricket match at Lords due to a global health pandemic pale into utter insignificance.

When was the last time you heard a Cuckoo’s call?

HMS Swordfish

Built in 1932, HMS Swordfish was one of the first batch of S-class submarines to be built. With a normal crew of thirty-six, these were primarily designed for British coastal patrol duties, and as a consequence were smaller and far more vulnerable than later boats (in naval parlance submarines are always known as boats, not ships). Of the twelve that started the war, only three made it to V.E. Day.

After eleven relatively uneventful patrols, HMS Swordfish left Portsmouth for the final time on November 7th 1940, disappearing shortly after. Initially it was thought she had been sunk by German destroyers, but her wreck was found in July 1983. She had hit a mine.

Just one tragedy amongst so many others.

A memorial service was held later that year, 43 years on from her loss.

I came across the story whilst doing research for an (as yet unpublished) sequence of poems about running around the perimeter of Portsea Island whilst training for various marathons. The poem that follows was written as part of this sequence, which has certain word and phrase repetitions / near-repetitions linking different poems and themes. The sequence is fifty – one poems long. Some of the poems have appeared on a standalone basis, both in my first collection and elsewhere; online, in print and in a couple of cases, as poetry films.

I posted my Swordfish poem on the Places in Poetry map, where it can still be seen, placed over what was once HMS Dolphin, her home in 1940 (with the exception of the nuclear armed boats, all British subs are now based in Devonport) . A few months later it was one of three poems from over 7,000 on the site to be selected to be turned into a film. In view of the volume of high quality poems available I was surprised and honoured that one of mine was chosen.

You can see the results of a day’s filming, plus lots of editing by the very talented people at Preston Street Films here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrZcNMi3xQY

Thanks also of course to everyone involved in the Places of Poetry project. If you haven’t already had a look at the website then it is at; www.placesofpoetry.org.uk

I hope that both poem and film do justice to the original subject matter.

Swordfish

Just in earshot
over the hush now shush of traffic,
all the rumours of a city,
fully awake but not.

Swollen sea churning,
brown black blue black
steel black
black,

White black white.

Swordfish

pebbles kiss,

Swordfish
Swordfish.

November 1940
a blue grey steel grey sky,
she is still waiting,
still hoping.
Knowing and not knowing,

until ‘83,

a memorial service,
washing away
forty years’ silt
in a brine-filled blink.

A Sea of Blue

In other circumstances I would be at Wembley today, along with another 50,000+ Portsmouth FC fans, for the final of the Leasing.com Trophy. Blue skies, a beautiful spring day, the stuff of memories (or nightmares depending on the result!). A real shame – though the stadium’s empty silence today is of course of minor consequence compared to what else is happening in the UK and around the world right now.

I’ve been lucky though. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would have seen Pompey at Wembley 6 times already (two FA Cup Finals, two Semi Finals, a Charity Shield and last year’s Checkatrade final – from which the cover photo is from – I wouldn’t have believed you). I feel very sorry for those Liverpool fans waiting at Anfield for 30 years for a league title.

In 2008 Pompey won the FA Cup for the first time since 1939. During the course of the war, the trophy travelled around various safe houses, eventually ending up at the Bird in Hand pub in Lovedean, where it was kept above the bar for three years. In 2009 the trophy went back there for one night of celebration, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance, (there is a photo of me on a hard drive somewhere holding the FA Cup).

The poem that follows is about that evening, and about that sunny spring day in 2008 when the cup was won again after a gap of 69 years. It’s also about my home, this city by the sea and how much it suffered between 1939 and 1945.

It first appeared in South Poetry Magazine, appears in Landings , and can also be found placed on the Places in Poetry map on the Bird in Hand pub in Lovedean, a few miles north of Portsmouth.

Apart from the connection to today’s non-event, I thought it worth posting at this time because of the ending. Whatever happens over the coming weeks, most of us will get through this, and have plenty of future opportunities to live, to celebrate, to enjoy each of our own personal victories over the coming years. Good luck and good health.

Bird in Hand

The FA Cup 1939 – 2008

We drink in the presence of greatness.
A glorious bird of paradise
that fills the room with life.
Wanderers to Portsmouth all roads between,
a coach trip ride through hedge-screened fields.

This monochrome world that we engraved
as so many lives were sliding past.
Waiting for the blackout to end,
as if nothing we did really mattered,
as if watching was all that there was.

So we taped up all the windows,
made do with any small victory,
turned out the lights and kept quiet.
As the radio spat static and crackled,
keeping our hopes in the dark.

And here we are only nine months on,
a country pub where they kept it safe
for five lost years as the city burned,
payloads emptied on a scrap of earth.
Abide with me all flags at half mast.

Abide with me and a sea of blue.
Wembley stadium and Kanu scores,
forty-something men so close to tears,
my daughters and I in our Pompey shirts.
The final whistle on a perfect day.

And here we are on the journey home,
brilliant colours will fade to none,
as the flags we carry are furled away.
Like Tommy Rowe at ninety-two
leaving all thoughts in the dark.

So drink to the presence of greatness,
for everything you do really matters.
Enjoy all of your victories.
Turn on the lights and sing out,
for living is all that there is.

* Wanderers were the first winners of the FA Cup. Tommy Rowe was the last member of the ’39 team to die. Abide with Me is sung at the start of every FA Cup Final, and often at remembrance day services.

Places of Poetry – Film Poems

A very quick post to share a tweet with the first of three poetry films created as a result of the Places of Poetry project. Hope the link works !

The Light of This Place

I’ve had a few computer issues hence no post here for a while. This particular post, and poem, is prompted by a tweet today by Portsmouth FC, with the title my first Pompey memory is…..

It reminded me of a poem I posted on the Places of Poetry website, entitled Followers. The poem uses Anadisplosis, a poetic and rhetorical form where the end of the last line is repeated as the start of the next. It’s often used in religious texts and verses. With the almost religious faith of football followers, it seemed a useful technique for this particular poem. There is a deliberate slight change between the end of the last line and the start of the first.

I’ve been a follower of Portsmouth FC and a season ticket holder for many years, have travelled across the country, and, briefly, into Europe to watch them. There are more diehard fans out there, (I probably make around 30 – 35 games a season), but it’s part of my life.

It’s also a key part of this city’s history – and, with the decline in organised religion and long-term mass employment, football, (and in some parts of Britain Rugby Union and Rugby League), is all we have left that ties us to this spirit of place, where the whole community, (or much of it), comes together for a common goal.

My first Pompey match was on December 26th, 1980 – a 0-0 draw against Reading. Having only been to see my hometown team – Frome Town FC -before (average crowds circa 250), I was overwhelmed by the size of the ground, the vast crowd, (of 17,412), the sheer noise, colour and atmosphere. I had been wavering towards following one of the big First Division clubs – but that day changed everything. I’m sure this was the reason my grandfather chose to take me to the match. I often think of him, that particular sunny winter’s day, and the impact that it has had on my choices and the direction of my life since.

The photograph is of one of the Fratton Park floodlights. This was taken on the last time it was lit, since Pompey have upgraded the stadium lighting over the last couple of years. These lights were once the tallest in Europe, and were the first used for a Football League Match (against Newcastle on 22nd February 1956). It still stands redundant in the corner of the South Stand and Milton End.

Perhaps this is another example of the endless cycle of football life, the ongoing repetition of the matchday experience, the handing over of traditions between generations, each time with slight changes from what went before.

Anyway, the poem;

Followers

Like all those before we walk the streets
We walk the streets towards the light
The light of this place our one true calling
One true calling we hallow this earth
This earth this place this scrap of green
This scrap of green of nurtured dreams
Of nurtured dreams over so many years
So many years and my grandfather’s hand
Hand on my shoulder and ushering me through
Through clicking turnstiles to climb these steps
Climb these steps my son’s turn now
My son’s turn now for this is our faith
For this is our faith we proclaim in song
We proclaim in song with all those before us

This City By the Sea and All That You Need

On Monday 18th February I interviewed Margaret Jennings at an event hosted by T’Articulation as part of this year’s Portsmouth Bookfest. The interview seemed to go down well (it was my first attempt at interviewing someone!), and I have subsequently found out that it was recorded and will be played on Portsmouth’s QA Hospital Radio sometime soon. I’ll post the link when it is available.

The event, which happened at 113 Art House Coffee (which I’ve not been to before and can highly recommend – excellent service, and the chocolate mint cake is to die for! ), also had really varied and enjoyable readings by a wide range of other poets, plus plenty more, all for £3 a ticket. If you are looking for something to do next Monday, then there is another T’Articulation event at Hunter Gatherer in Southsea – Tales of Woe and Wonder – follow the link for further details. https://www.facebook.com/events/1214127698797650/

Then on Sunday March 1st, I will be attempting to read a memorised poem in the bar of the Theatre Royal – this Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. I am really nervous about this, as I haven’t had the time to completely nail it yet. I guess we will see how it goes! Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/574654726713237/

It’s not as if I have a quiet week or so ahead – as things stand I am out every evening until the 1st with one exception – Portsmouth may have a reputation for being a rough old town, but a huge amount has changed over the past few years. It’s a very different place to what it was when I used to stay with my grandparents in the 1970s, and has a large and growing cultural scene. It’s well worth exploring!

The photograph at the top of this post is of the Lipstick Tower at Gunwharf Quays. It was one of a series of photos I took whilst training for various marathons and half-marathons (before my joints gave in!). Gunwharf Quays was one of the first major parts of the regeneration of Portsmouth to go ahead, and whilst primarily retail / leisure focussed, it has been pretty influential as a starting point for the changing perception of the city. Obviously the Spinnaker Tower has been a significant part of this development.

Anyway, this leads on to a poem. It appears in Landings, and also is on the Places of Poetry website, and is a paean to my home, this city by the sea.

The Next Station Is

Portsmouth and Southsea then Fratton and Hilsea,
clattering over the creek to the points at Cosham
west to Southampton, Salisbury and Cardiff,
east to Brighton, north to Waterloo.

And you will catch your breath in her reflection,
watching the world from a window seat,
as seasons concertina in ripening fields.
Commuter belt villages and old market towns,
reels of film on a cutting room floor;
are the scenes we keep the ones we’d choose?

And she will be returning here in your arms,
like yawning workers on the stopping train
memories slurring as carriages sway,
past Bowlplex, Vue and the lipstick tower.

Morning always loops home to this place.
dawn into day into dusk into night.
A circle aching still to be filled
with children’s laughter like marker pens.
Love and hope in permanent ink;
this city by the sea and all that you need.