The tractors were out this morning ploughing, with a flock of gulls wheeling and diving behind them after all those juicy worms. We are no where near the sea and I love seeing and hearing the gulls when they are up here. I miss the sea and sometimes on early mornings I imagine the mist hanging in the valley is indeed an expanse of water. It does often look like that - with little islands emerging through the mist.
My grandfather - known to everyone as Skipper - was a sea captain and he told me that the souls of sailors turn into seagulls. I always think of that when I watch them. In fact on the day of his funeral, we all climbed into the car to follow his coffin as it left his house and I turned back and saw a huge herring gull sitting on his chimney pot.
It inspired me to write this poem
Jack Tar, mariner, bosun, coxswain
able seaman, lighterman, ferryman
sea dogs once now
sea lords flying
cruising and coasting
mewing and crying
plying for fish
they tease and bait
So how many ways does a sailor die?
with mates for a whore
Cold in Archangel
and out of reach
or covered in flies
on a bone-china beach.
Then what becomes of
the sailor’s souls,
these birds and gulls,
at their demise?
Tarred and feathered
weathered and dumb.
Strangled in plastic
Is what they become.
There - still banging on about all that plastic in the sea though actually I wrote this poem years ago now.
I adored my grandfather, he was a fantastic story teller and had sailed three times round the world in those square rigged sailing ships. His adventures were incredible. Wherever there was danger it would appear that my Grandfather would be in the midst of it..
The renowned poet John Freeman's grandfather was also a sailor and it transpired that both his and my grandfather had sailed round Cape Horn - one of the most dangerous shipping routes there is.
Here is one of his poems.
My Grandfather's hat
Most of the time I saw Granddad indoors,
first in his dark room with blue gas mantles
and a kitchen range and one tall window
in Poplar, then in the overheated lounge
of Aunt Nell and Uncle George’s new flat
in Morden when he was in his nineties.
But he came to stay in our house sometimes,
and it must have been when he was leaving
that I saw him wearing his trilby hat.
It was grey and sleek like a new plush toy.
No one had ever made our two front steps
more like a staircase in a stately home,
not even Mum with her polio feet.
Crowning himself slowly, his own archbishop,
holding on to a handrail like a sceptre,
he turned with no more haste than one of the ships
he had sailed in round Cape Horn as a boy
in another century, approached each step
like a descent to be addressed with ropes.
Grandly he lowered one foot, then the other,
while we watched him, silently exclaiming
vivat, and the black and white chess-board
of the path to the front gate stretched out
like a long drive lined with waving flags.
And talking of hats - here's a picture of Pixie who has just eaten one.
People say that wolfhounds must eat a lot - this is true - our last wolfhound ate our sofa as well as numerous shoes(only one of each pair annoyingly) and (obviously) the birthday cake, the easter eggs and the Christmas turkey.