Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Dirty British Coaster - A bit more poetry by John Masefield

 The ships out at sea heading into The Port of Felixstowe are no longer Dirty British Coasters but ships like Majestic Mearsk a huge container vessel approximately 399 metres long, 44 metres wide, carrying 194,000 tonnes of c**p from Asia that will be on the shelves of a shop near you in a week or two.

That very small boat behind the monster is the Pilot boat which comes out from the port with the Pilot to guide the container ship safely into dock.

I suppose in fairness it may contain a few useful things - clothes perhaps? but I bet a lot is stuff people buy and then throw out a year or two later!

Some of these containers will go by train but most will be on the backs of lorries heading through Suffolk and all round the country.

I remember this poem from primary school.


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays

I shall be back with a diary post at the end of the week


  1. Love that poem. I did it at school too. As a family we enjoy watching the big tankers from the viewpoint cafe near the Landguard Fort in Felixstowe.

  2. The Pilot boat goes out to the sunk and area where the large ships dock until they know their berth is clear. A Pilot boards the ship and navigates it onto the berth, the Captain remains on deck to oversee the procedure. This is for insurance purposes. It is a practice in all UK and Foreign ports as the waters/channels vary so much between tides that its better locally trained Pilots complete the task. (I board lots of ships at Felixstowe in my line of work and have spoken with lots of Pilots) They train on simulators just like Aircraft Pilots because each ship has a different draft etc.

  3. Beast of a boat, heaven knows how the captain is able to steer looking over those containers

  4. One of my favourite poems from childhood too. Such exotic langauge! I don't remember our teacher EVER explaining what Quinquerime was though . . . or which country it was travelling from.

  5. Good memories of taking my mum to watch the big cargo ships come in.

    "A Pilot boards the ship and navigates it onto the berth, the Captain remains on deck to oversee the procedure" thank you Frugal in Essex for the comment.

  6. We spent many hours down at Landguard Point when we were staying in Felixstowe recently.

    I had to learn that poem at school and recite it to the whole school as part of an assembly. I have never forgotten it along with one by Walter De La Mere called 'Silver'

    Slowly, silently, now the moon
    Walks the night in her silver shoon;
    This way, and that, she peers, and sees
    Silver fruit upon silver trees;
    One by one the casements catch
    Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
    Couched in his kennel, like a log,
    With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
    From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
    Of doves in silver feathered sleep
    A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
    With silver claws, and silver eye;
    And moveless fish in the water gleam,
    By silver reeds in a silver stream.

  7. Gosh that poem takes me back to school days. It still trips off my tongue even now with its wonderful flowing stanzas.

  8. On our recent river cruise through Holland and Belgium, we saw so many container boats on the rivers.
    I remember that poem from school days too - love it.

  9. Oh great...more junk that'll get taken 'away' as soon as it's novelty wears off...or it breaks. x

  10. Another of my favourite poems ... as I mentioned before, I sang this at a school end-of-term event in the local town hall. On the same evening we performed exceprts from The Tempest (I was Ariel) ... "Full Fathom Five, the father lies ..." etc, when suddenly there was a huge thunder clap and the heaven's opened and the whole area was drenched in a cloud-burst of rain, so appropriate for The Tempest! A very timely storm, with the rain hammering on the roof as we attempted to speak our lines!
    Margaret P

  11. PS I meant "excerpts" ... I can spell but my fingers can't!
    Margaret P

  12. O gosh Masefield's poetry takes me back a bit. I recall having to learn that one off by heart to get 5 marks in an English exam.

  13. but even then 'the cheap tin trays'

  14. Can you send me your address for the book.

  15. haven't bee to Landguard Point for years. Lovely pics xx

  16. We moved out to South Africa and lived there for 7 years and moved back to the UK last year. We shipped furniture and sentimental clutter over there and did the same, though much reduced back here so when I see a container ship I wonder ihow many containers are filled up like ours with homes and memories. Most of our 'stuff' survived the experience and luckily all the sentimental goodies travelled fine. We once watched a container ship leave Portsmouth fully loaded and with a truck strapped on top of the containers, all exposed. Looked very odd and we wondered would it make it to its destination intact. Glad you are enjoying your beach hut and watching the world go by :)

  17. Ooh, what memories this post has stirred up for me, Sue! Loved this poem, although I was first introduced to it as a song when we listened to the schools' radio programme called 'Singing Together', on Mondays at 11.0 am, straight after morning playtime in junior school!(3rd year, now referred to as Year 5!). The first two verses were sung quite slow and stately, with the last one really fast, ('dashing through...') and we used to get caught up in all the alliteration of 'salt-caked smoke stack' and 'mad March days', and collapse in fits of laughter, especially the boys! On Thursdays we also listened to its 'sister programme' called 'Rhythm and Melody': mainly singing but with a bit of other musical input -- I loved them both! Ah, what a pleasant jaunt down Memory Lane..... :-)

    1. We listened to 'singing together' too, would have been around 1963/4/5.Our school was so small so there were 4 years in one room which meant we got to listen for many years. I only realised much later how many traditional songs and poems I know because of that programme. Shenandoah, Raggle Taggle gypsys, etc. We used to enjoy the voting at the end of each term for the favourite song from the song book.

  18. Have to say I spend what feels like hours at our local level crossings, counting those containers on the train wagons as they lumber past, making the ground vibrate! Average trains seem to haul about 40 each, but we see smaller ones with 30 and have seen one pulling as many as 50. Same names on the containers - Maersk and China Shipping most of the time!