Plymouth's old Museum and Art Gallery is very grand
and there's quite a few paintings there that I like and understand
such as that A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach by Stanhope Forbes
which makes the point that a fisherman's life wasn't just grief and storms
as you might think from paintings like Hopeless Dawn, which, you might know,
shows two women weeping because their men are out in a blow.
But for me the best about A Fish Sale is the giant skate
as big as a dustbin lid and weighing half a hundredweight.
Well, I've caught a few skate myself but never one half so fine
but this was Newlyn, 1885, not Exmouth '99
and when we'd caught skate we'd always fillet them on the way home,
cut off the wngs with two curving knifestrokes and the gulls would come
screaming from godknowswhere to gobble down the guts and things
until the skies were full with the flash and smack of their wings.
And that's the one thing about A Fish Sale I don't understand:
there's not one gull in the picture, neither at sea nor on land.