The Poem

August 30th, 2014

The Chinese Cockling Tragedy In Morecambe Bay

Beauty surrounds and health abounds
But Death lurks in those cockling grounds
Care is needed as your` eyes feast
For beauty can become the beast

On February fifth two thousand and four
A human tragedy came to our shore.
At twenty one twenty that winter`s night
a phone call told of the cockler`s plight.
Beginning a story of greed and shame,
that allowed the sea their lives to claim
and created a link thought never could be
`tween Morecambe and China far over the sea.

Morecambe`s cocklers take no chance
of being caught by the tides advance.
The cockling grounds where they make their pay,
they leave, to pick another day.
They know the channels, they know the tides,
they know the quicksands where danger hides.
But cockles were making a princely sum
tempting all manner of men to come.

Young people from China came to our shore,
their loved ones at home exceedingly poor.
They came to provide a better life
for parent, child, husband, wife.
Gangs could see the profits to make
If Morecambe`s cockles they were to take.
Harvest the crop every day,
using these people for trifling pay.

Morecambe`s cockles in demand
brought cocklers from across our land,
thinking they alone should be
the ones to take them from the sea,
and no intent to have a share
with the Chinese already there.
At the cockling beds they ran amuck
threats were made, blows were struck

In daylight hours with sea at rest
the local cocklers did their best,
to warn them of the dangers when
the ebbing tide comes back again.
A common language was not shared,
they could not understand a word.
If masters heard, they did not say
just sent them on their fateful way.

Gangmasters with orders to fill
sent their teams when all was still.
No matter if by day or night,
no matter if it wrong or right.
The only thing they cared about
was profit, and without a doubt
no thought at all for fellow men,
whom they may never see again.

The workers went without a care
giving no thought to the dangers there.
No one told them of the speeding tide
that soon would give no place to hide.
The darkness fell, the tide came near
they thought it safe they had no fear,
their trust placed in the people who
cared only for the easy sou.

The racing tide came to the fore
a sign for them to leave the shore
they turned around with time to spare
but found the sea already there.
It came around with silent tread
whilst they had watched the tide ahead.
Marooned they were in a raging sea
on a sandbank with nowhere to flee.

Some swam safely to the shore
others there would live no more,
most to meet a wasteful end
far from family and friend.
In the whirling surf, life getting shorter
a call was heard of ‘sinking water! ‘
The wind blew strong, the sea was high
many there were soon to die.

Teams arrived from far and wide
and tried to starve that hungry tide.
The lifeboat with its local crew
searched the waters through and through,
just one surviver found for sure
a young man, name of Li Hua.
Such sacrifice made to meet the need
of gangs whose lives are filled with greed.

From Leconfield, Valley and Kinloss
came members of the Royal Air Force.
The police and coastguards were as well
searching in that Dantes hell.
The sea had won, the tide was fed,
from now they only found the dead.
These brave mens duty now would be
to take with dignity from the sea.

Fire and ambulance scanned the shore
to help those who could swim no more.
They pulled them from the ice cold sea
and saved them for their family
in China many miles away
who`d never heard of Morecambe bay.
But since that night the bay will be
forever in their memory.

Gangmasters tried to flee the scene
telling police they had never been
the ones who used those poor lost souls
and left them to the sea and shoals.
The man in charge of bringing them
to justice, let the courts condemn!
Inspector Gradwell was his name,
of Lancashire policing fame.

There now will always be a tie
with families who still ask, why?
and Morecambe`s bay of sheer delight,
though not so on that fateful night!
Whilst looking `cross our peaceful shore
we shan`t forget those Chinese poor,
forever in our minds they`ll stay
a reminder of this deadly bay.

Though in this land illegaly
that was no reason they should be
robbed of their chance to live their life
with laughing children, loving wife,
of growing old with childhood friends
and walking where the river bends.
The green of grass, the blue of sky
that we take for granted you and I.

A plaque now lies on a Morecambe wall
to make sure we remember all
the young Chinese who died one night,
victims of that deadly blight!
The greed of men without a care
who sent them out and left them there.
Their names engraved for all to see
from now until eternity.

Stand and watch at end of day
the Westward sun set on the bay,
it`s rays refracted by the clouds
gathered round like waiting shrouds
as if to join its Eastward way
creating soon another day.
Taking home those poor lost souls
away from Morecambes sea and shoals

Mazu, Chinas godess of the sea,
please to hear our fervent plea!
These souls that in your` hands you hold
guide them to their homeland fold.
Taken by the setting sun,
the star from which all life begun
To rise up in the early morn
back in the land where they were born.

Beauty surrounded and health abounded
But Death lurked in those cockling grounds.

Copyright B Hough 2004

With kind permission of George Bernard Hough


August 30th, 2014

I’ve been away I’ve been working… but now I’m back and I need to know that you’re still there, I need to know that you still care.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.


It started off on an epic scale: the giant spectacular came to town and like thousands of others, we went to see them. Some of the negativity and snobbery around the event was laughable, for me anyway, it was a third moment of almost sublime awe that started with a giant mechanical spider and never ceases to amaze with its beauty: however, the impact this time around was lessened somewhat by the stress of public transport with a nearly one year old.

B seemed to enjoy it despite the look on her face.

Fighting through the crowds, squeezing on a train next to a drunk who insisted I speak on the phone to his mate Jan, queuing to just get into the train station: Thankfully, we didn’t have hours to wait to get home – though on the way, we did get the call that would change our lives forever.

We got the keys the next day.

There were so many things about the house that had felt right, from the start. The previous owner was Ev, her son-in-law a Blue, kids went to our church / school, a building with the huge E on the brickwork at the end of the road, our next door neighbour being a childhood friend of the Mrs. The emotions of moving were something of a surprise: loss, change, maturity, the unknown, grown up problems of mortgage rates and electrical faults and all the other things I should have been worrying about years earlier, instead of passport photos and transfer deadlines.

I miss the dishwasher. The view of the park. Two bathrooms. I don’t miss the stomping of the witchy neighbour, communal bins. A horror film esque creepy caretaker. The drunken stumbles home.


Still, saying good bye was hard, yet exciting, because what was there instead means so much more.

B turned one the day after we moved out, the day we moved in.

Her first birthday was full of coincidences given that the season started with a 2-2 draw for the Blues, a lucky victory for the Reds, a City win over Newcastle. But it was a seminal moment – our baby became a toddler, her first steps taken a few days later, a trip to Clarks for her first proper shoes, babbling conversations started, and again we were overwhelmed by people’s kindness as a big little girl reached many a milestone.


Twelve months has passed quite quickly, with so much adaptation people can’t really prepare for, you just have to jump in. It’s been largely enjoyable! Things are slowly starting to settle down in a variety of ways and the birthday felt like a transition point.

Unfortunately there also soon came tragedy and a death in the family. A great man, a good blue too, who left behind a brave and remarkable family. He will be watching the match from above.

Thankfully, Macmillan who helped him, and Motor Neurone Disease charities, have benefitted from the new fad of pouring ice over one’s self. I was thrice nominated but politely declined as it wasn’t really possible plus both charities had been close to my heart for several years so I’d been raising awareness and money in ways other than social media. I admire so many of the efforts I’ve seen, but just hope people see the bigger picture rather than the instant gratification.

I cavorted at the Courteeners whose album was the soundtrack to our move alongside a return to form for Steven Patrick. Prouder moments included a trip to the zoo, stroking a plethora of chicks, guinea pigs and snakes, revisiting where we got married to show B, first dips in the local swimming pool, first bits of DIY in the house doing things I never thought I would, powerful performances of West Side Story and games of snooker and adapting to our new surroundings including the kitchen, making pork scratchings and brawn whilst looking out onto the garden and beyond, the trains whizzing by every few minutes. The weather remained inconsistent: sunshine and showers, just as we had had on July 15th St Swithin’s Day, reminding me of summer projects of yore.

In terms of my art, though, my thoughts predominantly stayed with the unfortunate twenty three throughout this summer.


The bottles and loom bands were stored, biding my time until it was possible to release them back into the water. Finally the chance came on the last day of the holiday and I felt so lucky to be doing it with my wife, with my daughter watching on from the warmth of the car, given that so many of the victims had left their loved ones behind.


We had had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch at the Midland beforehand, featuring a famous ceiling image which summarised the whole event quite well. We went to the memorial, a touching though understated tribute of twenty three rose bushes and a plaque. On the way to Red Bank, we passed Gypsy Sarah’s: five years ago that place was essential, today it had shut down, presumably she’d not seen it coming.

It was a windy day so the poem, kindly signposted to me by its author, was read out and the Tsingtao bottles, filled with the faces and a message, were released. The tide wasn’t helping – as if it knew.


Lisa filmed it but the poem was obscured by the gale. Fate that the elements were against us, much less than they were ten years ago.

(I was reading excerpts of a poem by a local author who got in touch after reading about my project in the newspaper. It’s by George Bernard Hough and I’ll re-post it later.)

So the bottles floundered, might not get anywhere. So I threw them further into the sea, like the end of This is England when Shaun sits, accompanied by a beautiful version of Please Please Please, and I realised I’d got what I wanted.

Not a relaxing holiday, no sunshine, but something more. Closure, a decent ending to one of the most personal projects I’ve ever undertaken; I wasn’t expecting such a cathartic release when I embarked upon it.

Perhaps the emotions of everything else that has happened, moving, celebrating, grieving, heightened what I was feeling, but as the ten green bottles ebbed away, I felt sad and then happy again, much more fortunate than the twenty three and with a sense of optimism for the next chapter, feeling ever so grateful for every single second of this stupid little life.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.


July 17th, 2014

The fact that it took me a month to create those twenty three small portraits was caused by a variety of factors: not just my daughter, nor school work and the dreaded FAC Health Check, not even the world cup 2014 Brasil…

Which, I must add, was hugely enjoyable.


It ended four days ago, after four weeks of excitement that happen every four years and of which, I believe there are always four main elements.

This of course was Betsy’s first tournament. Granted, she didn’t see many games or take much notice really, so maybe 2018 will be even more memorable.

You see, everyone remembers their first world cup ‘proper’.

Mine was Mexico ’86 and it made me fall in love with football. That feeling has been repeated on a cycle ever since, whatever happened in between: yes, it waned a bit during my teens and informative student years but some seminal moments in my life have played out with a world cup game on in the background so, every four years, no matter where the tournament is being held or who wins it, I let it consume me and for me at least, there are four main elements of every world cup.

Which I’ll share with you now.


I actually saw a discarded Scotch video cassette box on the ground the other and remembered this:

It linked nicely to the first staple of my world cup experience, also a lifetime guarantee, of the process of recording and watching on a loop (this year, during B’s early morning wake ups or during a few days off sick following a bout of sinusitis) all the official FIFA films from the past few tournaments.

It’s all there in those movies – strange camera angles, Zidane-esque close-ups and strange acoustics, electric soundtracks synthesised by Rick Wakeman, dramatic narration by esteemed actors, and fascinating footage of fans or players off the pitch.

For example:

Some of them play out like Fascist propaganda, a surreal mix of nostalgia and rewritten history. My favourite is obviously HERO from Mexico ’86, narrated by Sir Michael Caine, one of the more dramatic offerings, although this time around really enjoyed the offerings that documented Mexico ’70 and West Germany ’74 due to the Mexican child / time travelling storylines respectively (the former starts with a kid hitch hiking across Mexico to see his idols play, the latter footage of Johan Cruyff with his wife on the team coach after the final)


This year, I have mostly been collecting the stickers.

The modern trend of giving the album away free with some stickers stapled inside is the equivalent of drug dealers offering free tasters to new clients because Panini must know that for some of us, it’s like an addiction.

For the past few years I have picked up the album but never carried on with the stickers, scared of the costs involved plus having nobody else sad enough to share the commitment with. Becoming a father, even to an eleven month old daughter who will possibly hate football, was the perfect excuse to get sticking this time around, it’s her first world cup after all, and thankfully I had male colleagues around my age who are also collecting on the premise it’s for their young sons. There’s females, too, who have got really into it and we regularly held swap clubs over lunchtimes.

Watching the matches, someone described as the album coming to life, which has come true as random players’ faces look familiar because I’ve ‘got’ them five times. Ten pence per sticker was admittedly steep, especially when you’re in the process of buying a house, they never used to be that expensive I think in my first album which was also, funnily enough, Mexico ’86.


But then this time, it was different. And, if she’s not interested in the album it might always be worth something to her on ebay in years to come. Anyone collecting the Brazil 2014 collection will have found the Panini app essential, calculating as it does my needs, swaps and percentage filled.

It all started with Xavi. I found him under a table outside Costa, and took this as a sign.


There’ve been hashtags, dedicated websites, swapping sessions at the Camp & Furnace for the hipsters and their painful coolness which I couldn’t ever attend. I even found a use for those horrendous loom bands the Chinese guy patented, which for a few days filled the floors at school as bored teenagers who weren’t collecting Panini stickers flicked them at each other and at us, then we picked them up to keep our swaps piles together.

At last I reached the magic fifty and have ordered the rest online. They are on their way, not quite in time for Gotze’s wondrous volley but hopefully before the season starts. This year you could even personalise the stickers:


It was fun whilst it lasted.


The third of my four World Cup things I wanted to share with you, was the kits.

Nowadays, pretty much every country launches new strips for the occasion with elaborate advertising campaigns and themes. About a month before the ‘big kick off’ a visit to Sports Direct or a flick through FourFourTwo magazine brings excitement like a child looking through the Christmas catalogue every four years, still now.


The obsession with international kits all started not with Mexico ’86 but the West Germany shirt and, as previously described, Italy in 1990. I took some flak for wearing the former to play out in but then I was only ten. Fast forward to the last world cup and I bought a retro Argentina ’86 t-shirt with Maradona 10 on the back. Only last year a bloke broke off a phone call in the street to loudly boo me. Thank God I never bought one of the USA ’94 Jorge Campos kits or something equally offensive.


This year my object of desire was the France home, one of the most stylish kits I believe I have ever seen let alone worn, and with a link to my Maghrebin roots and those negro Nicois gums, it just had to be.


But still I wasn’t allowed to buy the baby version.


World Cup matches also often involve the odd drink. Watching random matches playing quids in, or supporting England (or at least pretending to) in dodgy bars at strange times of the evening… all part of the world cup experience.

And not just for me.

You see, on one of those nights out, I discovered a group of strange individuals out there who apparently meet up every four years to reminisce, swap stories, compare outfits and drink beer. They might not shout about it, in fact they’d rather keep a low profile.


The oldest of the group is Willie, a hairy old thing in a battered waistcoat with huge shoulders and the nose of a heavy drinker. He mainly sits at the bar keeping an eye on the others with pride but also some envy. He started the club. There’s a few Hispanics amongst the group, too: Juan, Gauchito and the perma-tanned orange one Naranjito. They speak Spanish to each other and try to avoid the outcast of the group, poor Pique.

That little guy with a big moustache and always wearing a huge hat, he downs tequila with a melancholia that belies him being my favourite of the group, not least for his own association with my favourite tournament. His only real friend is inanimate though, an angular Italian-speaker who looks like he was constructed by an eight year old and all he can say is Ciao.

They meet up every four years without fail in different venues, and with each rendezvous the story is
the same: at first the ever-growing group treat new members with distrust and a series of questions about where they are from, what their intentions are, all directed by Willie who of course has his favourites in the group, Zak and Goleo.

Meanwhile, Tip and Tap are the oddballs amongst them, drinking their steins with a constant smile on their face until their rosy cheeks turn pale and they stop babbling on about the way things used to be.

But the ones I feel really sorry for are the pets they keep, the eager-to-please dog and the multi-coloured bird, and those bizarre creatures from the east, the Spheriks who nobody understands and everyone just leaves in the corner to sip the sake, secretly wishing this was all a bad dream.

This time around, the newest recruit bends the ears of anyone who will listen, about ecology and life in the Brazilian favelas and what those demonstrations are really all about, but the others don’t listen, they don’t care, to be honest they’ve heard it all before and they’re only there for the drink and the money and the reminiscing of better times.

Roll on four years, to do it all again!


There were many great moments of the tournament, some sad – I wanted Messi to win it so badly – and some more surreal: the BBC is always good at montages so here’s one of their finest:

That insect was definitely my favourite moment.

Actually, after writing this, now I realise the wonderful World Cup has left a legacy not just in Brazil I wish it was more frequent than it is: you see, it has brought me even more good fortune this week, what with Gove being reshuffled, the end of the term being nigh, Betsy’s baptism to look forward to and Morrissey’s excellent new album being released, things are looking to be on the up and up.

Here’s a taster!

With a house move next on the horizon, I hope so…

Until next time x

Shi bèi cǎn’àn

July 15th, 2014

Drawing the twenty three was a strange experience.

Before I explain why, I must state that I am indebted to Andrew Wilson and his Hannah Festival as it gave me the platform to explore this tragic circumstance. The foundation is named after Hannah Mitchell, who was suffragette and rebel. How funny I should be writing about her on the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Hannah (1872–1956) was a lifelong fighter for democracy and fairness, put in Strangeways prison in 1906 during the campaign for votes for women. She believed that “we have enough imagination to visualise the greater possibilities for beauty and culture in a more justly ordered state.”

I also must thank Michelle Blade and the team of journalists at the Morecambe Visitor, whose dedication to reporting the incident fully was impressive plus they produced a comprehensive supplement in February on the ten year anniversary, which was a vital research tool to help me understand what happened and who the victims were.

After planning the submission, I spent over a month reading up on what happened, and most importantly, looking at the photographs of the twenty three again and again. I realised that I couldn’t ever do them justice with large scale paintings so kept it simple, not just the information I shared about them, but also to keep the portraits small (each one is passport photo sized) and in biro.

This was me going back a step; I had collected passport photographs for a decade, before and after Nino Quincampoix did it much better for Amelie, and gained an art A Level near to Morecambe Bay having developed a skill for detailed Bic faces.


Whilst the “23 works of art and life” (thanks for that great description, Fran) improved over time, some of this group are not the best drawings I could have produced, I admit, but I found it strangely emotional to spend too long looking at the twenty three. Weirdly I felt like I got to know them a bit, and this empathy developed further when I knew their ages and their family situations. The fact that some were around my age when they died and had young children, and I was drawing them posthumously whilst listening to my daughter on the monitor, was at times particularly upsetting, especially as many were taken to the hospital I was born in.

Those who left orphans or were never recovered, particularly harrowing. The case of the victim whose face we will never know, desperate. The stories of the two younger men, one of whom had gone away to get money to build his family a home, just awful.

The fact these were often passport photographs, a moment many feel excited about and dress their best for, makes the whole thing all the sadder. These images should literally have been their ticket to a brighter future, instead they are almost like a death mask. What made it worse was further research uncovering that government officials put some of the coffins out in the street ‘to teach them a lesson’ plus gangleaders still hounded them, pursuing the money owed to them for helping transport them to their death.

One can only imagine the knock on effect on the devastated families, children, whole villages, and what they must make of the UK, Liverpool and most specifically Morecambe, a far away place for them that offered hope and now only tragedy, a local attraction for us that brought us sunshine, Frontierland, fortune tellers, fish and chips.

Normally, a project like this would have been something to enjoy, especially given that I hadn’t been able to do much drawing over the past year.

I’ve been away, I’ve been working, but now I’m back and I needed to know you were still there…

I should have found it cathartic, exciting, literally going back to the drawing board and learning new information on a place I love. I might even have noted lookalikes amongst them, and some do look like people I know, film stars or footballers, yet no joy could be found and I didn’t want to make light of their loss. For this wasn’t about me, it was about the lives of others, on the other side of the world, whose loss their loved ones might never come to terms with yet I for one only acknowledge now, ten years after the event, and for that – and for them – I am truly sorry.

The twenty three will be released back into the sea from Red Bank over the summer.

Zhang Xiu Hua

July 14th, 2014

Zhang Xiu Hua

Zhang Xiu Hua was forty five. He was married and had two children, a fifteen year old daughter and a twenty two year old son.

There is no photograph of Zhang Xiu Hua.