THE RACE (BLISS)
Alderney has the fastest tides in the world - 9 knots: swifter than most local boats can motor. So, when tending your pots round the island, to go 'west-abouts' (through The Swinge, past The Casquets and Burhou towards Guernsey) you must leave harbour half-way down on the ebb tide. (You then catch the flood down by Telegraph Bay, and work up The Race along the south coast, to catch the ebb again up by Quesnard and thence back to the harbour - are you keeping up?). Thus, to go 'east-abouts,' up to towards France and round to The Race, you must leave half-way up on the flood.
In this song, a retired fisherman is looking down at the harbour from his room in the Jubilee Home (which is right opposite Tom's house, and shares the same view), and remembering his life working The Channel.
Alderney fishermen call rabbits ‘fourlegs’ or 'land mackerel' (it’s considered unlucky to name an animal at sea), and they catch two kinds of crab: ‘chancre’ - as in the French, and spider crab.
And re the last verse: Uniquely among the Channel Islands, Alderney was completely evacuated when the German Army arrived in 1940, so they had a free run - fortifying the place like a land battleship on Hitler's personal instructions, and building four concentration/labour camps. When Tom first arrived on his second birthdday in 1957, there was still a lot of barbed wire around the coast (and there are still a few patches to this day). Puffin numbers have rallied slightly since this song was written.
Oh, and by the way - the eagle-eared will have noticed that the first two lines are a direct 'homage' to "The Night We Went Over The Mountain!" which Tom got from the wonderful Christy O'Leary album "The Northern Bridge" on Old Bridge Records (well, what else is the tradition for?)
Dedicated to Wally Gauvain (above, on board Sea Mist II), who never made it to The Jubilee.
When I was a lad I had no time for school
I had always an eye to the harbour
Watching my father and uncles and all
As out with the sails they would labour
And the moment the bell goes I'm off down the street
Like a four-leg away through the heather
To be in with a chance to be out with the fleet
n the rain and the wind and the weather
And far, far, far the horizon, near is the land I love best
Far, far, falling and rising, calling from valley and crest
Half of me's dying of half of me's lost
Where the waves and the white horses chase
Half on the ebb for the Casquets and West
And half on the flood for The Race
And when Father retired the boat that I got
Had a winch and an engine and anchor
But bloney hard work it was raising those pots
Full of spider and lobster and chancre
But never a problem to find my way home
Between all the rocks I could take her
'Cos I know these waters in fog or in storm
As a farmer he knows every acre
And after the war when the Germans had flown
And we'd dragged all their wire from the beaches
And put back the roofs and the doors of our homes
I had sons of my own to be teaching
But now like the puffins they're lost from these shores
Seeking new lives and new islands
And I simply don't have the strength any more
I just watch the horizon in silence