We all come from somewhere, but it’s not just a place, it’s a spirit, it’s a place of being, where you belong and for most of us where we were conceived and born, your mind was formed, the smells, tastes even a touch.
How you live, not in front of people but in your mind and your dreams, your whole being was formed where you took your first breath, where you were imprinted.
I was born in a place which has had a connection with the sea before the Vikings came and named it, generations of people whose genes I carry has been connected to this town, men and women whose connections has brought me to this planet have spent their lives walking to work in all weathers, when the day was so cold that rain froze to ice and beards grow icicles as warm breath meets icy winds.
Many men risked and gave their lives fighting a north wind and 20 feet swells as they pulled in nets of fish to feed their country and beyond, watching and waiting just in case are the brave men and women with strength gall and bravery, the men and women of the Lifeboat Crew. Many have left many never returned all for a food craved by many.
Watch your foot on that decking, mind that rope, get your foot caught in the net, you might as well take your last breath watch the wave will force you down, do what the skipper asks if you want to get paid, fall foul of skip and that’s your last trip. store the nets, ice those fish, stack them right so we don’t lose them over. two hours sleep in the past 3 days, the beard is grown fast now no time for a shave, no time to eat, more in the nets more in your pocket. He hates this job when it’s not going well, but when the count is high he loves it like he loves his life, nothing is like on a calm winters day when the waves are as high as the wrinkles on the deck bosses forehead and he thinks how close he came the other day, time to move its 4am it’s snowing and wind chill is -20c, ice now makes a white shell as reminds him of the icing on his wedding cake just months before, we can fish we must clear the ice its as hard as concrete, watch above your head the ice up high, watch your footing you go in this water only minutes to say your pray, no escape from water this cold, two tonnes of ice cleared from the boat, it can turn us over through the sheer weight, winches clatter and grind into life the cables groan to the doors appear to keep the nets right, ‘Its a good trawl boys’ the nets are full, full from the harvest of the sea, the cold, tiredness, hunger and life, but what keeps him coming back is the family, his family at home, who listen
to the radio tuned to radio 4 the BBC and the life saving Shipping Forecast but his family on his other home, the sea, the sea that tries to kill him every day, the men he lives with, trusts with his life, he cannot give it up the fish to bring home to feed the families, he doesn’t know anything else, only one week to go, his belly rumbles as he guts the cod, might be a good pay-day when he gets home, the last fish is packed covered with ice, the nets still trawling maybe get to eat, it’s now midday and the sun is out warm enough to heat nothing much, but makes him think of home, the sea has calmed as the gulls follow close as they know they that they will be fed, call goes out for nets to come in guess he won’t get anything to eat just another catch in and packed away 4pm and time to eat, sleep, snore until the next trawl is full and life starts again.
He lays in his bunk the photos of his biggest fans fixed to the bottom of the bunk above, he can see why he is doing this as he is rocked by the sea, the noise and vibration of engine sings him a lullaby, life of a trawler man is dangerous, cold, rough, hurts both muscles and heart far from the glamour life, neither romantic the poets will have you dream, the sea is a killer who wants to maim and take your life as much as life is taken from the sea.
Time to head for port, radio calls to family to let them know when he will make through the sea gates, this call has been made many time before but the family is happy to have father, son, brother home, two days sailing sees the land, sees the dock tower the heart now leaps home safe,kits collected, boat tired up catch landed, taxis arrived and home he goes.
Waiting on the dockside to take the catch are men of strength to pull the catch from below to auction then the bid, who will buy the catch, in the atmosphere of the fish auction with its pre dawn light start the fish is bought by the highest bidder collected now to move on to the waiting barrows are the barrow boys, but not boys but men who with the strength and the skill move the kits boxes with speed full of fresh fish bound for home and Europe wide, to get from sea to plate is the filleter, with skilled hands whose clean cuts remove flesh from bone, this skill past down from father to son, I wonder how many of you can stand in mid winter on a open pontoon the north wind blowing through while your bare hands with knife bring large fish out of tub of water with ice floating on the top from 6am until your quota is finished 8 hours later, many thought fish was filleted by machine, sorry to say but skilled hard working, proud men did this labour, my father taught me at 11 years old a skill I have carried with me.
For those who like smoked fish that another process to bring it to your table, the skill of the smoker, the fish dipped in brine, some with the yellow tinge then up the chimney to the smoke room where the fish are hung over bars overnight while oak chipping smouldered, smoke rise to preserve, a skill which is older than the Bronze Age in the morning a breakfast of warm smoked fish.
Many men and women who took part in risking their lives, at sea, or on land barrowing, filleting, smoking and lets not forget the net makers, ship builders, shipwrights, engineers, the list go on and on. All proud to once work in the greatest commercial venture the world had ever know. I come from Grimsby, which was the largest fishing port in Europe if not the world.
My father was a filleter, Uncles who were deep sea trawler men, along with my great grandfather I spent my childhood and early teenage years on the docks the smells, sights and sounds of a working port is not only in my memories but its in my genes. When it was my time for me to go to sea or work on the docks the lights were going out in the fishing industry a sad terrible decline of not just a job, but a community, way of life, people knew people who knew fathers and sons something that will never get back. I have the memories of watching it die, fishermen loose their jobs, trawlers going for scrap, families and communities torn apart when men leave to look for work sad times for the community, but for the businesses in the town to supply the families with every day products, no more money no business but I am proud to be a fillterers son and trawler men’s nephew and proud to have their genes.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Modern day fishing, still dangerous and men still do it, because its in their genes.