The children of the sea

by John Meed

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1.
Our house was black from the millstone grit And the smoke from the cotton mills And the river disappeared under the streets On its way from the Pennine Hills The weekend we took a bus to Whitworth Moor Or played hide and seek in Healy Dell And on Monday I walked to school down the Spotland Road On Saturday the crowd walked past our door On their way to the game Though the club never made it out of the fourth division Till the FA changed its name The brightest young players moved to glittering careers Down the road in Oldham or Burnley And the glory days never came to Spotland Road The cotton mills closed for maintenance During Whitweek every year And the owners went to Southport, the foremen to St Annes And the rest of us to the common for the Whitweek fair Now one by one The cotton mills closed down forever And now no-one walks to work down Spotland Road I could tell you about one or two Of our claims to fame Gracie Fields, the bus to Ashton-under-Lyme Or the co-op down Toad Lane I moved away from home When I was still a boy And now I walk no more to school down the Spotland Road
2.
Thesalonika 05:05
I was thirteen when the Nazis came to Thesalonika So I put away my dolls and I went to join the war And my father and I fought side by side On the Kilkis mountain we sang the International with pride Liberation came in ’44 But the army carried on with the war With allied money for their guns and for their planes They left me for dead in a ditch in the rain Where can I go? Where can I call home? Oh my Thesalonika Where are you now? I woke up in hospital in Bulgaria Found exile and a husband in Czechoslovakia And my children grew up far from the mountains an the sea But after all the fighting they had some security Springtime came to Prague in ’68 And my daughter joined the students who came to demonstrate But the tanks have never been far away In my European century We finally returned after 30 years away But as for Odysseus the homecoming was tinged with dismay Now my winters may be warmer but my bones still feel the cold And the streets are paved with promises but never with gold People ask me if I feel more at home back here Has my country changed in all these years I say my home is wherever I can be me And my land is any land where the people are free
3.
Mesopotamia 03:48
In 4000 BC people came to Mesopotamia A thousand years before the pyramids were built Three thousand years before Alexander invaded Asia Six thousand years before the twin towers fell But where civilisation comes, war usually follows And the armies duly came out of Chaldea The Hittites, the Persians, and even the Mongols And they all laid waste to Mesopotamia By 1920 we had fought in the trenches Where thousands could die for an acre of no-man’s land And the victors took out their maps of the desert And they drew an imaginary line in the sand Now the spoils of war go to the highest buyer And the French took the lands to the north and called them Syria South of that line became part of the British empire And Iraq was the name given to Mesopotamia Now it’s the 21st century and we’re back where we came from Only this time in the name of freedom and liberty But all I can smell is power and petroleum And I don’t see the families smile as they bury the free Now six thousand years is a long time to be learning And you ask me who am I to point the finger of blame But I say this as I watch the ambulances burning We’ve no right to lay waste to Mesopotamia
4.
Only half 03:08
The artist sends shades of yellow and blue Shimmering over the canvass The colours are only half of the painting Can you glimpse beneath the surface? The poet sits down with a pen in her hand And she murders her daddy and Lazarus But the rhymes are only half of her suffering Can you feel the pain in her adverbs? I write down my secrets, I write down my shame And I share them with you this evening But the words are only half of the song Can you hear what echoes between them? The novelist writes we need only connect But his characters tear each other apart The pages are only half of his fiction Can you read what’s breaking his heart? I stand here tonight with my heart in my hands Trying to make a connection But I am only half of myself Can you tell me what I am missing?
5.
The sadness 03:38
To some it may be a tropical paradise But to me it was home Like my father and grandfather before me I grew up in the Chagos sun But they herded us up like cattle And they loaded us onto the ship They brought us to live here in squalour Used our land as a bargaining chip Tell them we died of the sadness Tell them we lived with the tears Tell them we suffered the pain of the exile years Century after century Time after time and again We’ve been abused and mistreated For the colour of our skin Hauled over the oceans Torn apart against our will Brought out into the darkness of this plantation hell My heart may be breaking So much we have to sustain But they will pay for this injustice For all this suffering and all of this pain My years may be fading But for the rest of the time I am here Until I walk on my knees I will keep fighting
6.
We walked all day through meadows of silver And over the cliffs where the white gulls play And rolled down the hill to the inn at the end of the day Long summer days that echoed with leather on willow Through my childhood days that could never end Through my teenage torments you were still my best friend You gave me hope When others were dragging me down And I was alone – you and John Peel We talked all day about cricket and politics You said that socialism would come one day And I dreamed a world that was fashioned your way On the old people’s ward you said you would never come home And honesty ploughed up your honest brow Half a lifetime on I miss you now You kept me sane when I was close to the edge And I was lost – you and John Peel You never lost your temper or your cool But I learnt more from you than I learnt at school And you gave me the shoes for my journey through life And I never thanked you half enough Now I spend my days far from meadows of silver Far from the cliffs where the white gulls mew Further still from the days I spent with you
7.
I’m drinking coffee in the buffet de la gare Talking to the ghost of Picasso And Dali just walked by the window Saying this is the centre of the world There’s a train leaving for Paris (Gare de Lyon) And another for Barcelona There’s a night train for Geneva And a sleeper for Roma Tonight they can go where they will But tomorrow they will be back here in the centre of the world They’re dancing the Sardane in front of the cathedral They’re drinking aperitifs in Castillet The gypsies are singing behind the Gambetta And the tourists are heading for the sea You can take a train to Marseilles Or another to Girona In two hours you can be high in the sierra From the centre of the world Between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Between France and the Spanish border Between the vineyards and the bodegas Is the centre of the world Yes you can travel all round the world You can even fly with Virgin into Space But I will always come back here To the centre of the world
8.
The fishing nets are stretched out on the beach As the sun comes up over the water The cork trees are hissing in the breeze As I turn my back on the Spanish border I travel light and free like the children of the sea But exile waits for me in Collioure My land has just torn itself in two From Madrid to Barcelona I had to flee The fields of old Castille are stained in red And these northern hills are where I now must be The wind blows hard and cold and freedom is on hold As I walk down the road to Collioure I left my love in the plains of Sornia While Granada cried for Federico’s blood And thousands more will tread these stony paths As the fascist tide returns in a flood For the land that I now leave will soon a haven be For those who next will flee through Collioure They will travel light and free like the children of the sea The poet lived just 31 more days His heart could not withstand the exile chill And I now walk the paths that brought him here And I lift my eyes toward the Spanish hills The same chill wind still blows along the chemin d’eau Must history come and go through Collioure? Will I travel light and free like the children of the sea?
9.
So many years ago today You came and you stayed There’d been nothing in my life that could compare To that day You gave my days direction And you took away my sleepless nights Yes, you lit a fire in my heart And the winds of change just fan it brighter It keeps me warm in my darkest hour For you you are the finest flame All those years ago my life Was adrift on the ocean Floating with the winds and the tide And the cliffs were approaching Taking the compass bearings Was using all my emotion

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released December 1, 2005

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