Vicky Newham


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A mooch round smelly Whitstable

(This poem was written for the Whitstable Museum of Fun ‘Smell Walk’ hosted by Kate McLean)

The summer downpours have rinsed the sky
And stranded disappointment in puddles on warm tarmac.
The sea wind has rolled back an invisible gauze of smells,
The air slaps the senses: salty, tangy.
At low tide, forests of seaweed dry, the colour of slate and moss,
Silt on the sea floor, stinky and rotting,
A living carpet of decomposing shellfish.
On the stony beach, damp barbecue coals blush at frozen burgers,
There’s a hiss and a fizz and the smell of warm fat,
As recent rain has subdued the carefree mirth of August.

At the Forge, fresh coffee is the siren on the sea breeze,
Wafts up my nostrils, draws me onto the rocky sea wall
Where I watch visitors douse two quid oysters – all slimy and raw,
With cheap tabasco and pungent malt vinegar.
At the Fisherman’s Huts, it’s eau de chien
As a long haired mutt shakes the sea from its fur
And lies on its back in the slanting sun,
Next to a huddle of towels and yesterday’s trainers which still aren’t dry.
Into Sea Street, and it’s vinegary chips in soggy paper,
Stuffed into hungry mouths on damp-bottomed benches.


On the East Quay the asphalt plant grinds stone
And like the blowhole of a whale,
Belches out smoke from hot bitumen.
Ugly silhouettes poke up into an azure sky,
Ghosts of pre-war industry meet the modern world,
Where once coal, grain and timber arrived.
In the Harbour Village, homemade curries tickle my taste buds,
Lime and ginger blur into tomato and garlic,
Sumptuous Greek olives keep Philyra happy
And sweet, syrupy baklava straddles East and West.

On South Quay now, it’s fishy heaven
Unless you’re a snoozing lobster, yanked from a pot.
In the bowels of the harbour the mud quivers
Like brown blancmange with detritus stirred in.
Gill nets, like huge spiders’ webs,
Are hosed and brushed on rotating racks,
Flicking fish tears onto unsuspecting tourists,
While they check departure times for the ‘Greta’.
At the whelk stall, sea treasure in iced crates,
Smelling freshly caught, just not in local waters,
Industry collides with a working harbour,
And economies murmur as much as money smells.

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Vicky Newham © 2015