Passenger lines

Monday 27th June 2011

YOTA they called it: Year of the Artist. More than a decade ago. Over two thousand artists were funded by the lottery to work in unusual environments, from allotments to shipyards, from village post offices to motorway service stations. An acquaintance of mine decorated a fleet of dust-carts with colourful illustrations and poems: A La Cart Art.

One of my briefs was to spend a day at BBC Radio Gloucestershire, with the expectation that I write something suitable for broadcast by about 4pm.

Cocky by nature, I thought it would be a breeze. However, morning coffee uncertainty gave way to lunchtime anxiety and three o’clock despair. I left the building, ran to a nearby pub, shuffled haphazard notes, and finally found a metaphor.

Passenger lines

The door to the newsroom has two syllables:
the mew of a gull, the creak of rigging.

It is quiet here, early,
the few crew steadily rowing
(without rowing)
in calm Dawn waters.

I inspect the galley,
find no biscuits,
only a cargo of boxes of Kellogg’s:
the station’s long-running cereal?

I slide down gangways,
peer through hatches where lights blink
to port and starboard,
indicating movement
towards invisible horizons.

News breaks over the bows,
while, below decks,
Mark anchors the mid-morning show
with calls of “Cheers, mate!”
a burst of Rule Britannia
and siren jingles.

Hands jump to help lines,
cables curl into headphones,
and SBJ Paton stands on her bridge,
dealing the day’s rations
with dry salt wit.

A mere cabin boy for the day,
I stare at trails of jettisoned recording tape
black and yellow,
clinging to the edges of an old chest
like seaweed.

I must unfurl a one-liner
to cast upon the air waves:
a message from ship to shore…
if I can find the bottle.

Last week I found the piece, buried in a dusty corner of the hard drive, when deciding to cull old writings that no longer merit attention. It survived the delete button; just. And reminded me of a fascinating day in the company of those who know much more about deadlines than I do. Hard work, local radio.

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