SATURDAY MORNING IN

YORK DOCK BRANCH B.

(Circa Nineteen Fifty-three.)


John Campbell



A frost had dropped and the shed was closed.

At a coke filled fire an old watchman dozed.

But he woke and downed the last beer in a crate,

before the checkers came in at eight.

He'd spent last night in the snug of Pat's bar,

with a group of seamen who sang to a guitar.

They'd carried him over and closed the shed dure

and left him a crate of beer for a cure!

He woke before dawn and drank the lot.

The shed was freezing but the oul lad was hot.

From the peak of his cap to his stocking sole,

for he'd in him, the price of a few bags of coal.

He'd dozed and drank till the hours fled

and daylight lit the glass roof of the shed.

He put on his water-boots, lit up his pipe,

spit on his hankie and give his face a wipe.

Tommy O'Neill was the first Docker in,

his face was creased with its usual grin.

Parking his bicycle, he turned on the light

then let out a roar that put the pigeons to flight.

He'd a fine tenor voice and it held the high note

as he searched for his tea-tin, in the pocket of his coat.


A prized possession: it was a present from his mother.

It had sugar in one end and tea-leaves in the other.

He poured water into an Oyster Milk tin

and then tipped the tea-leaves and the sugar in.

Into the water, a dead match he poked.

An oul Docker’s trick: it stopped the tea tasting smoked.

Whitey put his bed into an empty crate,

he was dying on his feet, but otherwise felt great.

Davy English opened a water-side door

and the wind blew the dockets all over the floor.


JohnNicolson tramped all the tiers neatly stacked,

praying his count would be close to correct

Wee Johnny Gilchrist and big Tommy met

and immediately sang an impromptu duet.

The voices in harmony made the shed quiver

to the pulsating lyrics of the song Ol man River.

A few moments later, round a pile of Arran Banner,

came a Chapel shed Checker who was called Dan O’Connor.


As he loosened the collar of his black overcoat

A beautiful baritone burst from his throat.

It pealed like a bell and it soared in the air,

As he sang a cappella, She Moved Through The Fair.

They climbed on a spud pile and sang as they mounted,

I tell you The Three Tenors wouldn’t have counted.

Dockers came in from the pubs and the street,

drawn by the blending of voices so sweet

Ave Maria and O Sol O Mio, the voices in unison sang.


When they finally finished, their repertoire diminished,

Applause around the old dock-shed rang.

Then came the lorries; they were quickly unloaded

As into action the Dockers exploded.

Each bag was transferred to a fast growing pile

From a line-up of lorries that stretched half -a –mile.

The shed checkers counted, the carriers carried,

The skills of both sections were skilfully married.

By noon it was over and we went on our way.

The old watchman covered the rest of the day.

Those mornings I’ll treasure until I expire.

For my comrades now sing in a Heavenly choir.

The sheds have all gone, like the three entertainers.

The basin’s filled in! It’s a park for containers.

But I hear ghostly voices when I pass the place,

The mixture of baritone, tenor and base.

As Tommy and Johnny and Danny all vie,

To hit those big notes in that choir in the sky.