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‘Skippers’ and ‘Time and Tide’ – two poems from Karen Izod

My grandfather George Powell was the skipper of the Thames tug-boat Pep, and his brother Arthur skippered Vim, both out of Beckett’s Wharf at Hampton Wick. These photos have recently emerged from our family albums; Vim is photographed by Eric Guy and H.J.Milligan, while the photograph of the two brothers is unattributed. Guy’s extensive photography collection is held at The Museum of Rural Life at University of Reading, though these photos aren’t amongst them. – Karen Izod

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I remember their necks
under those caps;

deep runnels, seasoned
in the ways of navigation,

and brown as a clover
baccy, which they took

to rolling in their youth,
and which has their attention

coming out from High Bridge
on an empty haul, the water

narrowing from its blind bend,
and nothing they couldn’t
know, nor tell, between them.


This poem is in memory of my grandfather George, and grandmother Marion. During WW2 he would take barges of timber from Kingston to Greenwich and occasionally take longer trips out the Thames Estuary and round to Harwich.

Time and Tide

Oh Valiant Tug,

you, who always pull more than your weight,
you, who know the tides, the currents,
the rivery dankness;

so humble, so low in the water,
the prows of your barges tower
Huge and Menacing in your wake,

while the sun, striking them gold
on the estuary’s silver flow, signals plain
as radar to the bombers overhead.

And bravest Mrs P, out just for the love
of the day, for the smell of the diesel,
the joy of the waves,

and who prides herself on her fully-fashioned
stockings, is kneeling on the caulk down below.
Oh God, not here, not now!

And though her knees are torn through
from the fear, Mercy is riding with them that day
like a skipper’s mate,

and just for that while
Time and Tide are waiting.


Karen Izod lives in Guildford, Surrey, on the edge of the North Downs. Since lock-down she has been attending Poets’ Cafe, Reading, alongside other regular Open-Mic events: Write out Loud and 1000 Monkeys. Karen’s writing explores places: thin places, city spaces, people, politics, attachment and memory and she is published in a number of magazines and anthologies including Agenda, The High Window, The Interpreter’s House and Stanley Spencer Poems: An Anthology. Karen works as an academic in the NHS. Her maternal grandparents came from Braunston and Hawkesbury on the Grand Union and Oxford Canals where their families owned and worked a small fleet of canal boats, moving south to the Thames in the 1920s.

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