A sea prism: an album from the fifties

Issue: 153

Nick Howard

Shortly before our last issue appeared in early October, Nick Howard died. He had just turned 83. A longstanding and much loved member of the Socialist Workers Party in Sheffield, Nick was involved in International Socialism from the start. He is listed as a member of the original editorial board on the first issue, which appeared in the spring of 1960. During the 1960s, he worked closely with International Socialism’s first editor, the brilliant Mike Kidron, as well with Tony Cliff, the founder of the International Socialist tradition. Nick’s interest in the journal continued till the end of his life. He would often ring up, or leave voicemail messages, with suggestions, criticisms and corrections. A lifelong commitment to the struggle against imperialism made Nick particularly interested in our coverage of the centenary of the First World War. His anti-imperialism seemed to have formed in the 1950s, when Nick worked as a seafarer, travelling the world in the very last days of the British Empire like a character in a Joseph Conrad novel.

The photographs he took of the scenes he encountered then are an important historical record. Surveying them for a potential exhibition, Nick wrote this vivid and evocative poem, which seems a fitting memorial. (Thanks to Nick’s wife Jenny for permission to publish it.)

Albums of photos; lovingly compiled; then shelved and forgotten.
Scenes in suspension; smiles fixed; lives still.
A few lines by way of explanation, to set them in motion.

Us; outside the pub, down Deptford way; ’twas our last pint for many a day.
The windlass rattling in the ropes as we cast off the lines, full of hopes.
Changing the lookout; relieving the watch.
We were always on call and the pay was not much.
Painting the funnel; tea down the tunnel.
Ridding the ship of rust and grime.
Holding the course, along the rhumb line.
A Sunday at sea; on double time!

We all swayed together from side to side, straining forwards as she rides.
Heaving and surging on the tides.
Hogging, sagging, panting, pounding; howling winds all surrounding!
Jiving and diving in locomotion, swirling in arcs, across the ocean!

The noon day sun; taking a sight. We made the landfall and stayed up all night.
The pilot; saving us from the clutching rocks and the oozy slime!
Beware these yellow sands so sublime!

Nothing could compare, with the wildest spectrum ever seen.
Rainbows, spraying, Dolphins playing.
Prisms of colours everywhere, flecked on clouds and seas of green.
Shining icebergs on a Monday.
Seagulls; resting on a terrace roof on a Salford Sunday.

We pass through the lock into Canada dock.
Glide by the kids at playtime, singing and dancing to a new rhyme;
“Nothing could be finer than a transatlantic liner!”
More excitement than on dustbin day.

Faded images: Ships, docks, men, all gone in a cosmic trice.
Down the never-the-same river into which no one jumps twice.