Every Friday I attend my daughter’s school’s weekly Celebration Service. It’s an uplifting end to the week, focused on highlighting the children’s achievements. It’s a completely different experience to the whole-school assemblies that kick-started every school day in my own childhood. Each one followed the same formula: two hymns, one prayer, and bashed out on an upright piano a roaring tune to which we marched in and out.
The numbered hymns, chosen from a small blue hardback Songs of Praise book, ranged considerably in popularity. My favourite was 202. To this day, I still cannot see the number 202 anywhere without wanting to burst into boisterous song: “For all the saints who from their labours rest…”
Almost as popular, because its words were dramatic and it had no high notes, was “Eternal Father, strong to save”. One of my friends liked that one so much he planned to have it at his wedding.
For Those In Peril On The Sea
In my innocence, I thought of this hymn as a history lesson, as if losing fishermen at sea had gone out with the Ark. After all, I didn’t know any fisherman who had drowned. Living a long way from any seaside, I was about as likely to meet a fisherman as I was to meet a saint.
Even on a recent trip to the Scottish National Fisheries Museum (you can read about that visit in my post New Respect for Old Fishwives), I still did not appreciate what a dangerous a trade it is. I’m embarrassed now that my earlier post about fishwives was so flippant – but it was that post that caused a modern-day group of fishwives to find me. Yes, there are still fishwives – and the group pictured above make up The Fishwives Choir. They conveyed some very important messages, such as these:
- Seafishing is the most dangerous peacetime occupation in the country. Even the most modern ship does not render fishermen inviolable, and plenty of fishermen ply their trade in less sophisticated vessels.
- When fishermen lose their lives, their bodies may never be found. This creates serious financial problems for their surviving dependents, while insurance companies dither, unwilling to declare them legally dead in the absence of certain proof.
Who knew? I now feel even more disgusted than before with “Canoe Man” John Darwin, the notorious fraudster who faked his own death at sea in order to start a new life with his wife in Panama with his life insurance money. How dare he?
The Fishwives Choir is a dignified and determined group of women who have lost husbands or sons to the sea. They came together earlier this year to make a beautiful and poignant recording, intercutting “Eternal Father, strong to save” with the northern fishermen’s nursery rhyme “Dance to Your Daddy”. In the final chorus, the expected last line “when the boat comes in” is omitted, subtly reminding the listener that for some fishermen’s children, Daddy’s boat never does come in. All profits from the CD will go to The Fishermen’s Mission, which offers support to lost fishermen’s dependents.
So next time you tuck into a takeway or break out a Birdseye box from the cuddly polar bear’s clutches in your freezer, spare a thought for the men who have indirectly served you your Friday fish supper. And I’m not talking about Captain Birdseye. Listen to The Fishwives’Choir and while you’re at it, please consider downloading the song from iTunes. You’ll find it’s as cheap as chips.
For more information and to order your copy, visit The Fishwives’ website.
To find out more about The Fisherman’s Mission, click here.