A poem for (yester) day – Affshore

In the early 90s I was living in Portmuck, Co Antrim, with a small child who thought the beach was where you lived, rain or shine, day or night. A gas pipeline was being laid between the Ayrshire and Antrim coasts, and the ‘supergun‘ scandal was in the news. Then the same news told us that all up the coast old phosporous bombs were washing ashore, and igniting in contact with the air. It turned out they were the refuse of Operation Sandcastle, a post-WWII dumping exercise that involved the disposal of a lot of surplus allied and captured German munitions (including Tabun, a nerve gas) into the Beaufort Dyke in the Irish sea.

I wrote a sequence of eight poems titled after the op which, if they had an agenda, was simply anti-militarist, but which were maybe as interested in exploring what the irish Sea means… Which may explain the choice of stanza, and language, in this one, ‘Phase II’ of the sequence…


Anchored a good five mile affshore,
divers go doon wi fillum gear,
an soon find whit they’re lookin’ for –
whaur the Princess
Victoria went doon – or whaur
she cam ti rest.

It’s like the Basra Road doon there –
trucks an tanks an crates o flares
an shells lie oan the bottom whaur
the flatfish feed.
(Yi widni ate them, tho they’re rare.)
Amang the weed

oor new gas pipeline’s set ti run.
The submerged TV cameras pan
through clouds o sediment, through blin
fish an crustaceans,
tae sections o’t – a supergun
waitin construction.

An if I’ve goat mi programmes crossed –
thi arms-dump wi the ferry lost,
baith oan TV this week or last –
it’s ainly fair
to say oor scenic Antrim coast
is linked wi Ayr

by mair noo than the braid Scots sangs
oor weavers made, mair than the gangs
o bevvied Huns wha bare their fangs
in the ferry’s bar –
crapped heids whose Ulster sturm an drang’s
an achin scar.

The Oul Firm an the tribe o Burns,
Rab C Nesbitt an the Broons,
Planter surnames, Planter Toons –
the channel, Rabbie,’s
bridged by mair than kailyard turns
an stannard Habbies.

The protest signs you see in Ayr
(‘say No To Pylons’) spring up here.
The rigs that sproot alang the shore
firnenst thon stack
sproot aff Portpatrick same as here.
(‘Here’ is Portmuck.)

Thir blastin shuck Scots hooses tae,
shuck windies, an shuck broon silt frae
the watter pipes. Twice ivry day
thir dynamite
rattled the deadly pruck that lay
roon Beaufort’s Dyke.

Sez them – We didni shake it loose,
the way we shuck yer thick-walled hoose,
an onyway, in wans an twos
it’s lang been sighted.
Sumthin wiz boond ti break depth’s truce
wi a that’s weighted.

An, sure, they’re richt, but them or not,
between the Ulsterman an Scot,
for a the ties o culture, whit
binds us the noo
isni a language, Rabbie, but
a trade that you

wid hardly ken, a contraband
crown forces smuggled oot there, an
chucked owerboard, in sicht o lan.
New kinds o gun
an plaguey bombs ye’d unnerstan,
but radiation?

The waste frae Sizewell an Dounreay,
frae makin electricity
an bigger bombs, jist tipped at say?
Compared ti this
my cheeky lallans poem’d be
a piece o piss.

A wee yarn, rabbie, fore I nip
back inti Inglis: the pile o scrap
that maks yon garden sic a tip
will soon be higher,
because the mon wha piles it up
ti rag his neebours

in whit they call ‘North Down’s Gold Coast’
has nailed his crossbones ti the mast –
this pirate, Rab, despite the cost
(he isni mane)
will salvage, an tow hame ti roost,
a submarine;

yin o the hunnerts in the drink,
the dregs o livin oan the brink
o Europe’s wars. Rab, ye micht think
a mon’s a mon,
but see the depths ti which he’ll sink
when he’s ower-thrawn.

The U-boat captain frae Das Boot
cud tell ye, if ye’d hear him oot,
that doon below twa thoosan foot
things start ti splinter.
Whit comes ashore, whit bane or loot,
we’ll see this winter.

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