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Seven Songs from the Norfolk Coast

Gorleston

Just a few of us left now
Scraping a living
From the fishing
Just a few boats heading
Out of Gorleston
Where once there were
A thousand drifters
Harvesting
The shoals of herring


Enough boats here
Once to walk across the Yare
Without wetting your feet
A thousand mawthers
Once to do the gutting
A hundred holds brimming
With the silver darling
The sparkling
Harvest of the ocean


But now the quays are empty
And the drifters gone
And there's no more singing
In the fishermen's pubs
And the ocean's harvest
Has been killed, leaving
Just a few of us
Scraping a living
From the fishing

 

Weybourne

I swim at night
Off the shingle here
When the moon rages
And the stars are clear

When stones are thrown
By an angry sea
Onto the beach
Chaotically

I float like a seal
And you can tell
I’m quite at home
On this dark swell

No longer a creature
Of the land
I could grow gills
Or burrow in the sand

Or flip my heals
And take a dive
Into the deepness
And still survive

For I was never made
For solid ground
My legs too weak
To walk around

My heart
Always too cold
For human things
Has now grown old

So I’ll be here
When the sea grows still
Or the old wood comes
Down Dead Man’s Hill

For I swim at night
Off the shingle here
When the moon rages
And the stars are clear

 

Happisburgh

The man from the government came round
To say my house is only worth a pound
Perched here on this most fragile ground

Where the sea bites into the cliff
And all buildings shift
Precariously

And at night, I hear the waves crashing
Against the revetments
And fear the strength of the water

I can no longer sleep
Fearful of the time when the slide will come
And carry my belongings into the deep

My hair has gone grey
And my nerves are fraught
In my head now I hear the sea
Like in a shell constantly
Roaring and beating and waiting
To take the house I bought

My garden has already gone
Along with my favourite shed
I awoke, one morning, to find my lawnmower
Mangled on the beach
And all my tools smashed and tangled
My screws and nails spread

Soon to be pounded on the beach
Its bricks worn smooth - its timbers cracked
Its tiles dispersed by the breakers
To disappear forever out of reach
Piece by piece
Like Eccles Church

Who will fight to save my home now?

Nobody!

Because the man from the government came round
To say it’s only worth a pound

 

Great Yarmouth

Whether you’re a tanker from Murmansk
Or a yacht from Oulton Broad
We’ll radio to let you know
Or even come on board

From the Yarmouth Roads to the Haven Bridge
From South Town to North Quay
We’re the pilot crew
Who’ll see you through
Most skilfully

Whether on a rising
Or a falling tide
We’ll speed the Yare
To come on side.

From the Yarmouth Roads to the Haven Bridge
From South Town to North Quay
We’re the pilot crew
Who’ll see you through
Most skilfully

Whether in a rowing boat
Or a deep-sea liner
Whether in a flat calm
Or a force niner

From the Yarmouth Roads to the Haven Bridge
From South Town to North Quay
We’re the pilot crew
Who’ll see you through
Most skilfully

Whether you work the rigs
Or the new wind farm
We’ll make sure
You’re safe from harm

From the Yarmouth Roads to the Haven Bridge
From South Town to North Quay
We’re the pilot crew
Who’ll see you through
Most skilfully

 

Cley-next-the Sea

When I cross the Little Ouse
Into Norfolk
I start to lose
That sense of London, diminishing
Behind me: bricks and cars and concrete
The stress of office phones
And meetings - all finishing
Till, at last, I come to Cley

Where I find the old cottage
Tucked off the main street
Where the hollyhocks grow
And the North Sea winds blow
And I know

That under the arms of the mill
There is wildness still
And that sense of the sea
Pounding relentlessly
Beyond the shingle bar

And there on the salt marshes
After dusk I hear
The sad sound of the curlew
Reminding me of her
Who cannot be here
But once was forever near

Before the terrible illness struck
And my life lost all its luck
Here in this hide
With our binoculars, side by side
Scanning the birds on the scrape
But now entirely alone
Under a million dancing reeds
Under a huge Norfolk sky
Wondering why

 

Holkham

Each year they bring us here
To ride and rest
Across this beach at Holkham
That we love the best

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly

Far from Buckingham Palace
Or Horse Guard’s Parade
Where the jostling tourists
Make us feel afraid

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly 

No standing to attention
On sweltering summer’s days
But now to splash so freely
Through these North Sea waves.

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly

No brass or drums beside us
No ceremonial dress
We simply have our saddles
And feel so free of stress.

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly

And when we get too old
To trot and march and pass
We hope to come back here
To eat the Holkham grass.

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly

For always in our minds
There is this stretching beach
Far beyond the concrete
Of those London streets.

For we are the horses
Of the Household Cavalry
Who gallop by the sea
Endlessly

 

Sea Palling

The sea will always triumph
Tomorrow or today
Despite Norwegian rocks here
Will always find a way

For the sea knows no time
Only deepness and cold
No clocks or watches
For the sea is very old

And the walls you build
In time will crack
For the sea is always moving
And never turns its back

And that cliff house
That stands so proud and tall
Will someday lose its footing
And fall

For the sea cares nothing
For human things
Of misery and sorrow
Is what it sings

And your wooden breakwaters
Will not last long
And if you think they will
Then you are wrong

For the waves will warp
And weather and bend and shake
Till the metal bolts all rust
And finally break

And although on summer days
It lulls with tiny waves
Beware - for in the end
It always misbehaves

Always out there waiting
A surging realm of cold
Always working
To get back the land we hold

So do what you will
Build your defences here
But know that in the end
They will be stripped clear

For the sea is no respecter
And will never sleep
A surging realm of darkness
So cold and black and deep

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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