Songs of the Sea

Songs of the Sea 's main purpose is to raise money for the Sea Cadets of TS John Paul Jones, especially important at a time of swingeing cuts across Government. It will also, I hope, amuse, entertain and inform with its mixture of doggerel interspersed with the occasional proper poem.

The title is also a tribute to the two men who inspired me to take up a Royal Naval career - my mother's Uncle John Main and my own Uncle Douglas. 

Song's of the Sea was my Great Uncle John's Hogmany party piece with compulsory hand actions and bobbing up and down. I think it was loosely based on a Denny Willis Empire skit from between the wars which he and Uncle Douglas developed to even greater heights of ridiculousness and surrealism. Behind all the daftness were the tales of the sea of which the sinking of the Bismark and Atlantic convoys played a great deal. The problem with Great Uncle John was he was a great story teller and so was open to flights of fancy. He did start life on the lower decks and it is possible he was a turret gun captain.  My own experience of Gunnery Instructors at Dartmouth suggests there was enough about Great Uncle John for this to be true. What was true was he was one of the first aqualung mine clearance divers and basically helped write the book. He was still diving in his sixties helping Edinburgh's ‘finest’ out by searching for bodies in Leith Docks and other wet, murky places.

Uncle Douglas had been Little Guns on a cruiser during the Bismark chase and had the pictures to prove it - taken through the foremast range finder in which he perched. He also saw action against the Scharnhorst; which he said was unremarkable as it was all done by radar at 12,000 yards, in the dark and, with the flash of his own guns wrecking his night vision, he was lucky to spot the odd hit. By 1947 he had had enough of peacetime sailoring and left the Navy to become a sales representative for McEwan and Younger's - brewers and alcoholic beverage suppliers.

After leaving the RN, Great Uncle John became a ‘Postie’ at the Carricknowe Sorting Office in Edinburgh, joined the Edinburgh RNR at HMS Claverhouse and was, as he put it, dragged through the hawse hole, kicking and screaming, into the wardroom. He was actually very proud of his promotion to the 'officer class' and was never as pleased as when nearing the end of his RNR career he took his great nephew, as a young Surgeon Sub Lieutenant (D) RN, to my first and his last Trafalgar Night at Claverhouse.

As for my RN career and life since then?    

Read on and fill in the gaps for yourself!

In the Navy -
The sickbay hums to the whisper of conditioning,
One light shines its sleep breaking light.
In front lies, the patient unsleeping
The barbiturate sleep of one who’s not right.

The time ticks, silently, digital:
My lids droop, I must not sleep.
I hate illness – its total dependence;
Hippocrates laughs, I try not to weep.

The man lies, destroyed yet unyielding.
A wrecked shell, aged early in time,
He lies there swearing in F’ing eternity
His organs destroyed along with his mind.

His ketotic breath hastens towards me,
As I towards him, to check vital signs.
He cries out, as his life goes before him,
Clap ridden women, cheap bottles of wine.

I return to my chair, my watch to continue.
My thoughts depressing, as I look at the time
But I’m halfway through, the worst nearly over;
While he’s just starting, cold turkey for wine.


For forty minutes I was dead,
Though just for exercise –
Or was it?

For forty minutes I was alone,
Thinking dead thoughts –
Or was I?

For forty minutes no life flashed by
But the horror of reality, the crushing, frying
That could be my fate

For forty minutes –
I was dead!

Ajax Bay

There is a silence now over Ajax Bay,
The howling of men is long since gone.
Stories are told of undreamt happenings
By those who came and are now at home.

Those who stay, what are they thinking?
As they huddle together, no longer for warmth.
Who do they blame in their well kept silence -
The politicians needs or the pressman’s froth?

Early Morning Tryst

What’s your head?
As we move like a carousel.

Head to wind –
Like the church steeple cockerel.

Come along sides?
Like two shy lovers.

Up slack back spring!
As they gently kiss.

Pass the fuel line –
An excessive coupling.

Cease pumping –
As once more satiated.

Let go aft –
And she moves away.

Fall out specials –
And off she hurries.

A Final Check
Final check, look round: five minutes to start time.
Rough hewn peat walls, hung with gear.
We cut the silence with nervous humour, dry coughs
Waiting for cries we are loathing to hear.

Some sit on their heels, rubbing lips, sore, chill, chapped.
And fiddle with sets that mean to give life.
Sparky twiddles, hums, crackles, to get on the net
While time closes in on the beginning of strife.

 It begins: 105’s bark, 4.5’s crump, mortars cough forward
While the silence moves darkly, towards opposition.
Flare lights all and rapid fire ripples,
Live rounds come in, all kneel in contrition.

The torrent comes in, flooding our station with
Broken men, the pleading, the silent, the crying.
We take to work, sorting hopeless from hopeful;
Staunch bleeding, fight pain, give time to the dying.

Decisions to make, mayhem surrounds all.
Cries - Sir, sir, we need some direction:
Vital signs, wound type, chance of survival -
We give them a number with out real attention.

A ‘Helo’ comes calling, its time to send some onwards.
The tagged lottery numbers deciding their fate.
It’s not the far gone we will shift to the ‘Helo’
But ones who will live, remember, relate.

And so we continue for all who come inbound.
Enemy, friend and some we can’t tell.
The charnel house clearing as victory beckons
Leaving us empty, dark memories and indescribable smell.

We’re told to get moving and find a new home,
The hill top is taken, Marines moving on.
We pack all the boxes, the Bergens, the satchels,
Then yomp all the way to the base of Longdon.

There we dig in, set up, get a brew on,
‘Sunray’ pops in; says, “Well done you chaps.
Your work is unheralded but it’s really important,
With out you morale would quickly collapse.”

Your Mail
Your mail is an injection of happiness
To the lonely life of this metal monastery,
And, for a day, I smile and feel your closeness
When a hatch slams fomenting isolation.

The emptiness of soul is then all apparent:
Rereading your letter gives temporary relief.
But all encompassing, the depression of distance,
The hollowness of stomach, the longing of heart.

Yet, here I am, one who’s so private
Pouring out thoughts like a love sick swain.
Daring to write things, found unsayable,
Because of embarrassment – more probably pain.

The pain of rejection, it’s cowering of spirit,
Memories of other times, things said – cruelly felt.
Inside this happy guy, is one who is sensitive,
Easily reducued to un officer like salt.

Your mail is an injection of happiness
A crumb of comfort in my isolation
A needed life line of hope – I must confess;
To keep me going in my metal monastery

The Aftermath

The Raven

There is this isolation,
A loss of function,
Freezing all emotions,
Time comes in a glass.

And, at the bottom,
Is a bird,
Locked in the base
Struggling to get out.

But, like it,
You are trapped

The Mark

I look at this page
And see not blankness
But the intrinsic beauty
Of its fibre.

The noble mark
Which tells its quality
And bestows virtue
On its scripture.

Were I paper
I could look all day
And see nothing
But guilt.

Why do I live
When others, better, have died:
Frozen solid,

The page is silent,
So is God;
Only my self pity

Duty Weekend Nightmare

Why am I afraid?
I have all before me
My degree, my profession
And things material

Why am I afraid?
I have my soul in me -
Is it its blackness
Or incompleteness?

Why am I afraid?
Is it my loneliness;
My fear; my paranoia;
Of being disliked?

Why am I afraid?
Is it my past failures:
The knife thrusts
Of trying to hard?

Why am I afraid?
Am I afraid of being
Loved and loving –
Is it so frightening?

A Whiff of Grease Paint

I am on stage;
The heat and light
Transcends any feeling
That was there before.

I am alive on stage;
I’m higher than any ‘junkie’ - 
I have my fix;
Its a hundred shiny faces.

I am in love on stage;
I’m in contact with people.
My fantasies are alive,
Fired by the buzz of laughter.

I can die on stage:
But, not if I can help it.
My death is when
The lights go out.

T’was in the sickbay,
Not a person was stirring,
Till ‘La Hodges’ voice
Brought them a running.

Was it a death?
Was it a stroke?
Nothing like that,
Tight elastic had broke!

Ode to Lynne –

An old ‘OMO’ packet,
Acid etch in my shoe,
A broken porcelain jacket,
Broken models to,
The surgery’s loonie racket,
Reminds me of you....


Merry buzzing mosquitoes, laden with malaria,
Off to seek a white man for lunch and lots of fun,
Only find a Yorkshire man with dour and pallid countenance,
So decide to cut their losses, go home and just have Spam.


Who to phone?
Time is on,
No one.

No young trial,
Infant smile,
No one.

Love lacks here,
Whom to share?
No one.

It I hate,
Miss my mate,
Need her.

Love Hits

Life after all

I had been dead these last four months
Not sleeping nor waiting Spring’s young warmth
But dug deep, marked dead,

No future for me in this land of life.
Too many deaths had scarred my soul.
Resolution and after life
Was there none.

But a miner came, a rescuer of souls,
With warmth and tincture of love made me whole
And let Spring’s life
Restore me.

And now I live again with fulfilment;
Not alone, but one with you and a future
And I thank the Gods
For you.

Hidden Thief

A Lady, quietly independent,
Came upon me one day.
She came not to steal but left laden.

I pursued, bidden northwards,
To regain what was mine but failed,
And became her prisoner.

And now she binds me,
Makes me happy, free from sadness;
Enfolding me in her love.

Window Pain

The rain raps, roundly,
As the squall hurries past
But the minute gone,
Like the rain, is lost

What was that time,
That caused such longing.
The crisp crunch of wood
Or the vision present burning?

The flame that is life
And of passion mocking
The entity of oneness,
The heart’s belonging.

A Gem

I miss my love –
More than anything precious that has been mine.
But what is more precious – nothing!


I lie a-bed at night and think of nothing but you
Your warmth, your smell, the soft caress of longing.

I drive me mad at night longing for touch and feel
Of finger, of leg, the whole comesting of your smooth skin.

I cry aloud at night, weeping with frustration,
Of distance, of time: love – the bi-weekly meeting.


A word of sunlight
That spears the clouds of my bleakness.

A word that conjures
My life expectancy and aeons of pleasure.

A word of love
That I alone cherish which completes my being.


There was a young lady from Devon
Who oft put me in seventh heaven,
We’ll be married, no fear,
In May of next year,
And start breeding our own hockey eleven.


Do you know that
Vallium’s on tap?
Deliveries with ease,
Phone me here please.

Your voice is what
Calms mood, sad, hot,
Roundly makes me laugh
Relaxes like a hot bath.

My need is great
Sealed here by fate
Your voice, sweet wine,
I drink every time.

My love – that’s you.
All alone I’m blue,
Yet when you’re come here
I have no fear.


Why just hold one day
To be the sole arbiter
Of all that’s bright and gay?
To me that’s a non starter.

Loves annual message
Delivered in pomp and sway;
What does this presage
Love only on this day?

My valentine’s each day,
Each minute and time’s smaller
Love is too fine, too fey,
To be just one day’s caller.

Life after Death......

Pub Picture

The redolent, garrulous chatter,
Comments: Mad as a hatter,
Corners, warm, for a natter,
Black cat; getting fatter and fatter.

Beer flowing rich, flowing easy.
Loud laughter, some coarse, some breezy,
Courting couple in the corner, playing ‘kneesy’,
Young Lad, much drunk growing queasy.

Logs glowing hot with red fire,
Drunk man, arms waving in ire,
Farmer, boots covered in mire,
Old man, cob pipe, tobacco pyre.

Music quiet but inanely ringing,
Friends visit, surprise present bringing,
Parrot, green, on cage top, sight seeing,
Time called, last orders ringing.

Monk Bretton
The stark black church - pinnacle of morality:
Stands encircled by legions of modernity.
Around it survives an islet that is grave yard,
A green oasis which black tablets guard
It stands sentinel watching its surrounds -
Those in its confines or lost underground.
Its miners now vanquished, their homes now gone,
Their struggle unmarked; except by their tombs.
The stark black church stands on regardless,
Chiming the time over the young and the soulless.

Picture Window
A large space fills the wall
Framed white, lighted silver a nd blue indigo.
Marked by a black house line
Coloured by two crane lights -
Whose home is just apparent –
Remarked by a Commodore’s flag
Lighted white, carried high,
But central is a white semi-sphere,
Casting baleful light
To cascade down the tiles
And catch the eye like a tear.

Jottel Svenska

Helm, burning bright, red slits threatening,
Devouring forests with out anguish.

And yet, your fiery heart does not strike fear into me and mine,
But gives solace and comfort.

We find no fear in your hissing and screaming nor your roaring and spitting,
Your anger only warms us.

Oh Dawn! (Ode to a dental nurse)
Oh quiet Dawn, who rises in the wrong direction,
Who’s liking for jumbo sausage is, with out question.
Oh Dawn, shy Dawn, whose face glows as wild madder
And out goes Val with weakness of bladder.
Oh wry Dawn, who’s dry humour is tritely teasing
And leaves poor Mark asthmatically wheezing.
Oh bride Dawn, who’s happiness is beyond belief
So here’s a horse shoe, adorned with old teeth.

Etange de Locoyarne

Sepia coloured evening
With ochre sun lighted patches.
Slate grey mirrored salt marsh
Silvered rippled finish
Dark woods not hostile
Protective from shower bursts
Skeletons of ships
Haunted by past warpaths
Silence to hear bird song
Perceive bat shapes passing
House hidden but found
Vibrant fire to welcome
This on the first of days
Yet to be encountered

Who Looks?

There is a bridge,
Under it runs a painted stream,
Painted in oils by Constable

It runs there still,
Running with oil and flotsam,
Trolleys and cones of revelry.

Who put them there;
Simply the young and uncaring
Or is it years of folk saying - it was not me?

We are all to blame,
None are truly guiltless,
We all have looked the other way.

There is a bridge,
Under it runs a stream of guilt
A reflection of our human destitution.

Peace of Soul
Tho’ golden Dee flows sunset touched
And geese around the banks all chatter.
Then down swoop swans, mute, whistling, flash
And o’er the brig the plough horse clatters.
Old trees deft touch the rivers edge
Where golden stands late summer’s sedge.
Then, oh then, there’s nowhere else
This cheil would want for peace of soul.

Then hear the line as it screels out;
The whip and swish of fly’s rise and fall.
The gurgle, plash and ripple run as
Rocks at brig foot break their flow.
Then quiet, under trees, a head breaks clear
As otter views his fishing pool.
Then, oh then, there’s nowhere else
This cheil would want for peace of soul.

So o’er the dam the waters rush
And down stream head to touch salt marsh.
Where Tarff and Dee co-join at Cumston’s foot
There teal and widgeon watch heron’s flight.
The bulrush feed the brambling’s crop
As Solway fills its muddy banks.
Then, oh then, there’s nowhere else
This cheil would want for peace of soul.

Rantings of an angry man!
Christmas Past

Crippled, by the fire he sits –
Looking for Dickens;
But he’s dead.

Who’s to help him?
Ormand Street doesn’t,
He’s not exotic.

Where’s the prestige in him?
He’s not surviving,
No finance there.

Dickens, spinning in his grave,
Can not be heard;
That’s unfortunate ....

Where’s Scrooge?

The Committee
Small minded, black balling, they sit
Not caring who they destroy, hurt or ignore.
They pretend to preserve honour, the right and honest diligence.
While all they support is themselves – self indulgent nepotism.

Sod’ em Hussein

Do we never learn?
Hitler, Napoleon, Attila the Hun
Are really nice people.
Bring ‘em to see your Mum?
Sure you would.

Oh, they might have:
Murdered, gassed, raped and ravished;
But they are just misunderstood;
They’re nice guys
Don’t mean any real harm.

So, you did not like:
Kurds, Iranians, Kuwaiti’s
So it’s all right that you just
Kill them
And take their countries?

Well if it was alright for:
Hitler, Napoleon and Attilla the Hun;
It must be alright for you
But remember Sod’em
They all found their Gomorrah.

What if?

What if – the world is flat and we are all ciphers?
A figment of a programmers imagination – just byte and bits
Some hedgehog has just zapped Mario as intendoed.

The three Segas have just visited their gifts of
Basra, Somalia and India on us –
The arcade buster is the IRA’s contribution...

What? Our program’s corrupt - you say.
Tell me something new, we lost it when we deleted care from the options.
So just shut your doors and play your games - just like you always do.

Four wheels:

Four wheels on their wagon and Labour keeps rolling along.
Halliburton, was after pay, they pulled Tone’s hair,
Bush was there, Iraq’s the dare
But they’re singing a happy song, it goes:

Directorships for Tony and all his cronies
Back pocket money, mainly in Ponies.
A year up the road there’s a national election
And we can watch those Nats; go galloping by.

Three wheels on their wagon and Labour keeps rolling along.
Taliban in Afghanistan, we’ve got no troops,
Bush says poop, Tone says oops!
But they’re singing a happy song, it goes:

Two wheels on their wagon and Labour keeps rolling along.
Wee Eck’s in power, Wee Wendy just glowers,
Broon pulls his hair, it’s just not fair.
But they’re singing a happy song, it goes:

One wheel on their wagon and Labour keeps rolling along.
The credit crunch, brings up Brown’s lunch,
Oil price at max, there’s whisky tax.
But they’re singing a happy song, it goes:

No wheels on their wagon so Labour’s not rolling along.
They’ve lied so much, to folk and such,
They’ve had their chance, a failed romance.
But they’re singing their happy song, it goes:

MSP’s that Labour Favours!
These wimps and pimps and whoresons,
These oleanaceous ravers.
These folk who take for themselves, alone.
MSP’s that Labour favours!

They lie and cheat; roll in deceit
And call it best behaviour.
Dishonest in their use of words
MSP’s that Labour favours!

They take and grasp without remorse
Like locusts on a grain field.
Integrity’s their call, as down they fall.
MSP’s that Labour favours!

They think that voters see no harm
In their japes and hideous havers.
But warning call, we’ll vote their fall.
The MSP’s that Labour favours.

Paxman – Robbie’s reposte!
Packsman, it is nae me
That mak's shouts o' brilliance or ither contemptuous claims.
Whit is it that get's yer goat to mak ye sae thole and crabbit?
Ye mind me of Tarbolton presbytery, tight lipped and introverted;
Wha'd nae joy of life or love!

Packsman, maybe yer mule has died
An' now you lug thon stane o' Sysiphus, yersel, to push agin?
Mayhap that's why we hear ye whine and girn, goin' nae where fast.
Yer burden's wearing down yer eloquence tae a sneer,
Fae ear to ear.

Packsman yer jist a chiel;
A blethering skate wha's jealous an' feart - a deil.
Whit know ye o the Scot's Renaissance, Dunbar or Nicholson?
Ye blustering son o’ Albion, a loon o' first degree,
I found you on my sole!

The Good Ship Union (to the Tune of the Good Ship Titanic)

They sailed the good ship Union across the ocean blue
And thought they’d built a ship the SNP would never get through
But t’was on the third of May
That the Captain lost his way.
It was sad when the Union went down.

Oh it was sad, it was sad,
It was sad when the Union went down
To the bottom of the..
Politicians, their wives,
And researchers lost their minds.
It was sad when the Union went down.

The SNPberg struck a hole in compartment number one
And it wasn't very long before the flooding had begun.
The opinion poll differential,
Proved very influential.
It was sad when the Union went down.


The SNPberg then rushed through to compartment number two.
So Gordie said: oh no, the SNP must never get through.
So he did for bendy Wendy
To prevent Wee Eck from entry.
It was sad when the Union went down.


The SNPberg it went whee into compartment number three.
So Nick Clegg came along to see what he could see.
There was Nick and Tavish
Plugging the hole with a radish.
It was sad when the Union went down.


The SNPberg with a roar flooded all compartment four.
Leaving Cameron gasping as he headed for the door.
But he saved himself by mingling
With folks from Middle England.
It was sad when the Union went down


So the Union slowly vanished to the bottom of the sea.
To where devolution won’t vanish and Westminster never be.
The moral of this story
Be you Labour, Libdem or Tory
You’ll be sad when the Union goes down.


A Reckoning – 12th November 2009

“They grow not old, as we that are left.......”

Binyon made the final hit.
The practical breach, long prevented, was through.
I stood powerless, as faces known and unknown
Crashed through my defences, over ran my emotions,
Massacring my sanity.

My army of the dead:                                                  
The faces I knew, loved and drank with;
While others were blank in the maelstrom and fog
So may or may not have passed through my hands
As I fumbled for life.

Of father:
Whose own experience of war,
Informed his understanding and compassion for me.
Who took life to save his friends and civilians -
From tyranny and hate.

Of Brian:
Who has no place of rest, no last mark,
His body atomised in the blast of a thousand pounds
Of political need and stupidity:
Ardent to the last.

Of Peter:
Safe home, unmarred and ‘Scot Free’;
Yet another’s sad error, need for speed,
Froze him to the marrow in Norway,
Six month’s wed.

Of Steve:
Long out of service, with kids and a practice.
The love of a wife – unconditional, unlimited:
A success to all who saw him above the surface:
Dead by Goonhilly.

The rest:
Unknown but not uncared for by me.
The boy conscripts or Royal Marines
All reduced to the self same piteous state -
Buried as one.

And me?
I have no more need for walls to protect me
From friends who are ghosts but still real.
My love for them is undiminished, patent
And alive!