Momus – Cockle Pickers

From the album ‘Otto Spooky‘ (2005).


(NARRATOR) – Yu Hui came from Yangbian, a village in the north of Fujian, opposite Taiwan
Government requisitions left him with just one mu of land
Not enough to pay for his family’s outgoings
It was humiliating
Yu Hui thought of emigrating

(YU HUI) – A man working in a bakery in Britain
Can send enough money home
To build a big six storey mansion in Yangbian
Abroad I could save each month
More than I make here in a year

(NARRATOR) – And so Yu Hui made a deal with the Snakehead Gang

(NARRATOR and YU HUI) – The wind is strong, the tide is high
In darkness no-one can see the sky

(NARRATOR) – On a forged Korean passport Yu Hui flew from Hong Kong to Europe
He dyed his hair to better resemble the man in the picture
In Paris he tried to find work, but failed
An illegal Chinese with no skills

(YU HUI) – I went sightseeing, called my family
Told them to pay the snakeheads £7,000
This they did, with the help of loans
Secured by relatives and friends

(NARRATOR) – In England Yu Hui thought he would have better luck, a chance to earn more money
He came stowed away in a lorry
Through the channel tunnel

(YU HUI) – I heard that some who do this suffocate
I was afraid
It was hot in the truck
I ate a bar of chocolate

(NARRATOR) – In London he worked in the kitchen of a takeaway
The boss was hard, and the chef, although from Yu Hui’s own village
Required £200 to give him the job

(YU HUI) – I slept on a mattress I found on the street
Lived with four others above a takeaway
Had to distribute five hundred leaflets every day
Then work eight to ten hours in the kitchen
For two meals, and low pay

(NARRATOR) – When he heard about the cockling work up north
Yu Hui assumed it could not be worse than life in London
He packed a case and went to Morecambe Bay

(YU HUI) – This work is very hard
It is cold and hurts my back
I live in a room with forty others, we eat only rice
I am depressed
I want to quit, but because I’m illegal
I have no freedom and no choice

(NARRATOR) – Five different Chinese teams, all under the control of a gangmaster
Work different sections of the bay
They work according to the tides, sometimes by day
But mostly at night
In groups of twenty to thirty

(YU HUI) – The English cockling teams felt threatened
Because we sieve the tiddlers out, clean our cockles better
They poured diesel on our catch to warn us
They hate us because we are foreigners
So now we work at night, although it is much more dangerous

(NARRATOR) – They lay the wooden planks on the sand
And shake them to bring the cockles to the surface
Harvest them with rakes, clean them up, and drop them in a sack

(NARRATOR and YU HUI) – The wind is strong, the tide is high
In darkness no-one can see the sea

(YU HUI) – And we knew that the tide was rising
Only when it touched our feet
By that time our only escape was blocked

(YU HUI) – If I die, who will pay off the Snakeheads?
My family will drown in endless tears
They cannot pay, not in fifty years

(NARRATOR) – The hovercraft sent by the lifeguard was beaten back by two metre waves
Twenty bodies were recovered, only one was saved, clinging to Priest Skier
It was not Yu Hui

(NARRATOR and YU HUI) – The wind is strong, the tide is high
In darkness

next >>>