The Smell of the Coast

After our games had ended

In squabbles and in kicks,

Our mouths raw and garish

From too many boiled sweets,

Once we’d spied A to Z

On registration plates


Over the blistered tarmac,

Then up we would pipe

From the back seat:

When shall we see the sea, Daddy

When shall we see the sea?


Through by-passes, fields, industrial estates

Lay-bys where we’d stop to pee, stretch legs,

And sip a thermos of milky plastic,

We’d hark for the cries

Of gulls overhead,

Desolate for the smell of the coast

And though they only wheeled

Over rubbish tips

Not five minutes passed

Before we begged:

When shall we reach the sea, Mummy?

How far is it to the sea?….

Hardly any closer, she’d say,

Since last time you asked. Or Dad:

The more you look forward

The longer it’ll take.

So we’d pipe down, tune to the radio news

Bulletins unchanged all afternoon,

Stare out the window

Unable to credit or count

How many seconds make up an hour

How many waysigns between here and there

And if it isn’t ages until we arrive

It won’t be forever until we leave.


But over every ridge

Behind the tree silhouettes

The sky seemed to ripple, brighten

With a marine light.

And soon there’d be bungalows

With portholes instead of windows,

Yachts on the curtains, toothpaste blue,

Shells in the pebbledash. The street

Would dip away

And between b&b’s, candy-floss, tar,

I see the sea. I see the sea. There it is.

Here we are.


What was it all about?

Two weeks to scour up and down the beach

Dodge turds bobbing by the outflow pipe

Lick sand off a molten ice-cream.

But nothing could defeat us,

Even at night

Sunburnt between the cool white sheets

We’d cup the shell

Of our ears to our heads

And drift off

To the waves milling the shingle

Tide rummaging the shore

Sounding like the ocean sounds

But louder.


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