Phil’s Ashes

At the beginning of May, Nick and I made a visit to Kilve on the Somerset coast.  We were to rendez vous with Jenny and John, Liz, Charlie and Amy.  We had a task to perform, a ritual, the scattering of Phil’s ashes.  John and I enjoyed a friendship with Phil’ which extended over many years.  John first met Phil’ ‘behind the scenes at the Museum’.  I met Phil’ when I joined the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1981.

Liz is Phil’s daughter and she had planned the scattering, partly to involve people like me who were unable to be present at Phil’s funeral.  We met up at the Chantry Tea Gardens, tucked back in a secluded position not far from the beach at Kilve.  A path leads down from the chantry through fields now used as a car-park to the beach which William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who lived for a brief period with his sister Dorothy at Alfoxton House, described as “Kilve’s delightful shore”.  The beach is on the West Somerset Coast Path.  Kilve had special significance for Phil’ whose geological speciality was the Jurassic.  As we accessed the shore we walked over ammonite fossils embedded in the limestone pavement.  We picked our way over the mixed flag and boulder shore until we reached a point just short of the cliffs where we could descend to the water line.  The sea received the ashes and I read out some postcards, three of the many Phil’ had sent to me whilst he was conducting fieldwork along the Dorset coast.

Mission accomplished we drove back to Watchet and checked into our B&Bs.  We were booked into The Bell Inn to eat supper but made a detour to drink a jar or two of cider at The Old Cider House, Pebbles Tavern.  This was an enjoyable occasion, the pub we had chosen had given us a table in a cosy snug just off the main bar.  The meal was good and the conversation was lively and we ranged over many topics.  How Phil’ would have loved the banter.  The following morning we dispersed after a special, heart-warming experience.

Subsequently I would write my contribution to an Appreciation of Phil’ for our in-house magazine.  This runs as follows:

I met Phil’ Palmer when I attended my first Conchological Society (CS) meeting in October 1981.  That day is vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday; it has huge significance for me.  I had been joined to the Society during the summer and at that meeting, the first of the CS year, I met other elder statesmen of the conchological world, well known names in the annals of the Society’s history: Peter Oliver, Bob Scase, Fred Pinn, Dr Sandor (I never did know his first name), Tom Pain and Stella Turk.  It was her first council meeting since becoming elected President.  I would say that Stella and Phil’ are the two people to whom I have the greatest debt when it comes to the way the course of my life was changed forever on that October day.  Phil and Stella have died within six months of each other, both in their 90s and I feel the loss of them both.  It seems appropriate that I would take a ‘phonecall from Phil’s daughter, Caroline, with news of Phil’s passing, whilst I was working a shore in Salcombe during a CS field trip.

Phil’ was an intelligent and gifted scientist and modest with it.  He also had a wonderful sense of humour. He was hugely helpful to me with his advice and encouragement over the years, as I made the shift from a random collector of pretty shells to someone who needed to apply herself a bit more and would eventually ‘get science’.  Phil’ was good with beginners but they needed to demonstrate a willingness to learn.  He was a stickler for accuracy, a bit of a pedant (note the apostrophe after his name!) and did not suffer fools gladly.   At one meeting he once gave me a minor ticking off for using the word ‘creatures’ in the context of an animal or an organism.  Creatures he said were created, this did not apply to living things.  He was a natural teacher, with a great ability to share his knowledge and explain his reasoning.  He was meticulous in collecting and processing samples, both Recent and fossil.  He had a phenomenal ability to write well both scientifically but also in a more popular vein.   He sometimes had his own views on taxonomy even swimming against the tide: he tried to make a case for using the genus Littorivaga for the saxatilis complex (Palmer 1989).  My first insight into Phil’ the Stickler was on the subject of scaphopods, when I waved a ‘Dentalium’ under his nose (his chosen molluscan group).  He corrected me and delivered an explanation as to why Dentalium was incorrect and I should use the genus Antalis.  You never forget little lectures like that.  He wrote an article for the CS newsletter (Palmer 1983) ‘On referring to Scaphopods’  and was taken to task by Dennis Seaward in an edgy rejoinder (Seaward 1984), a correspondence I enjoyed.  Phil’ wrote prolifically and could be very witty.  The most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud piece written by Phil that I ever read appeared in CS newsletter in 1990, entitled ‘A Scurrilous Tale of a Conchological Term’.

Phil’ was part of the cohort of ‘British Marine’ in the Society which included Shelagh Smith, Julia Nunn, Celia Pain and others.  He once referred to the group as ‘The Marine Tendency’ (paraphrasing the Trotskyist ‘Militant Tendency’), which moniker appealed to the renegade in Phil’.  We formed a distinct minority group in a Society which, at that time, was dominated by the non-marine element of membership.  Non-marine molluscan collecting and mapping formed the original thrust of Society activity, marine recording coming later, and in some ways remained a poor relation for a good while after.  It would be Dennis Seaward who would be the person to lift the ‘British Marine’ game.  These days there is a more even distribution of spheres of interest in the Society, including molluscs in archaeology.

I am indebted to Phil’ for a valuable friendship that lasted from the moment we met.  He took an interest in my family and was later blessed with his own granddaughter, Amy.  Having a passion for photography he taught me how to use an SLR camera.  He taught several people over the years, I imagine Caroline was his first pupil.  But he disliked having his own photo taken, it reminded him that time did not stand still.  This is why my selection of photos for this article shows Phil’ typically engaging with colleagues in the field.

My greatest debt is that he is the person who nudged me into tackling a taxonomic project after I quizzed him about Chlamys nivea, after a field trip to the Isle of Skye.  He did not know the answer to my question, he said, I had better go and find it for myself.  With my background in modern languages and a modest little GCE in general science, I needed his guidance to conduct a biometric study on shells from several sources, including institutions.  I learnt to do standard deviations ‘by hand’!  The late Nora McMillan loaned me her holdings of what I refer to as the Orkney ‘Great White’, the large white Chlamys varia which can be found on Orkney beaches and, I believe, nowhere else in the British Isles.  These shells are a conundrum in themselves: a project waiting in the wings.  I wrote my paper on Chlamys nivea and it was accepted for the Journal.

Phil’ was at his best on a one to one basis, or with small groups.  Apart from an informal talk he gave at a British Marine workshop I organised, to the best of my knowledge, he never delivered a lecture because he was fundamentally a shy man.  But he was also a maverick and proud of it, and he enjoyed friendships across a spectrum of age groups.

In closing I can only reiterate the sentiments expressed above by John, Phil was indeed wise, meticulous and uncompromising in his principles.  And you could count yourself fortunate to be considered a friend.

References

Palmer, C.P.  1983.  On referring to Scaphopods. The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 87.  119-121

Palmer, C.P.  1984.  Pax Carthaginis – A Very Old Gamesmanship.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 89.  176-17

Palmer, C.P.  1989.  A Case for Littorivaga.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter No. 110.  200-202

Palmer, C.P.  1990.  A scurrilous tale of a conchological term.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 113.  285-286

Seaward, D.R. 1984.  The New Gamesmanship.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 88.  157-158

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

My first Baboons in the Wild – Ba-boom!

We’re still at Chapman’s Peak which means we still have our lovely beach walk to enjoy.  Ted finds yet another snail low on the shore.  We stop and watch it rebury itself.WP_20170401_09_47_39_Pro (2)

Today we are going to go to Cape Point, and on the way we will go to Simon’s Town for lunch and to browse the little market there.  Lots of purveyors of glass bead work.  Ted buys a   I am very tempted by the little nodding guinea fowl but resist.  We find a seafront restaurant and on our way to the table I notice someone eating a plate of large mussels.  The green-lipped kind.  They look wonderful in a creamy sauce so that is what I choose.

On our way to Cape Point we drive across the extensive Nature Reserve and it is here that Nick and I get our first sighting of baboons in the wild.  They are going about their business on the open ground to either side of the road as we drive past.   There will be more wildlife before the day is out.

Arriving at the car park we have two options: we can climb the slope to Cape Point and the lighthouse there, or, we can walk around the coast to the Cape of Good Hope.  The former is a promontory at the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula, which is a mountainous and scenic landform that runs north-south for about thirty kilometres at the extreme southwestern tip of the African continent. The cape is located at about 2.3 kilometres east and a little north of the Cape of Good Hope on the southwest corner. Although these two rocky capes are very well known, neither cape is actually the southernmost point of the mainland of Africa; that is Cape Agulhas, approximately 150 kilometres (93 mi) to the east-southeast.  We opt to walk the route to the Cape of Good Hope which looks as if it will be scenic and will give us a good walk.  It really is too hot for me to climb.

For much of the track there is a wooden boardwalk which makes it a friendly path to travel.  There are spectacular views around and notably a beautiful sandy beach which is virtually deserted.  Along the way we see mongooses, a pair of Gemsbok, a pair of Ostrich and later, up by the carpark, we see Hyrax.  We climb up to the highpoint and survey the surrounding sea- and landscape.  It is very beautiful and remote.IMG_5733 (2)

We drive a different route back to Chapman’s Peak.  Our way takes us through Scarborough and Kommetjie.  IMG_5737 (2)It has been a warm day, a bath is very welcome and we dine at the hotel.  I expect I chose Calamari again 🙂

Hint of Mint and a Gin Clear Experience

CJ, Ted and I took our preprandial walk along the sands below our hotel.  We all love this early morning fixture.  I do reflect that notwithstanding the good fortune of having a home by the sea it is the moment of stepping out of the front door and onto the beach which makes the experience special.  Ted has been finding the occasional sea snail washed up on the sands.  It is the same species each time, I need to find out what it is.  He finds one this morning.  

After breakfast we are going to drive to Llandudno beach and spend the morning there before going to Cape Town to do Table Mountain.  First we must pass by the Pik and Pay to buy a bucket and spade.  It is a fabulous day and arriving at the beach we hire some umbrellas and beach chairs and set up our little camp fairly high up on the shore.

The rollers are tumbling in, there is surf.  We will be tempted to the shore a bit later.  There is a nice little splash pool and Nick and I fool around making a string of mini-castles with moats to be fed by overflow from the standing water nearby.DSC01064 (2)IMG_5674 (2)

We munch on Droewors and other South African dried meat delights, crisps.  An ice cream vendor passes with his freezer box from time to time and on one round we buy something.  I choose a mint chocolate icecream, something I have not eaten in decades.  In this fashion lunch time comes and goes.

Venturing to the shore I cannot resist the feel of the icy frothy water round my ankles and calves.  There is a very strong undertow and coupled with the vigorous waves and the swirling surf I need to brace myself to stay upright. IMG_5669 (2) Ted goes in further and is joined by his mother.  Ted finds a stipe of kelp which he enjoys waving around.  DSC01076 (2)The sea really does feel cold but the clarity of the water, gin-clear, like liquid glass overcomes the chill factor and the pair of water-babies that they are, spend some good time jumping the waves and trying to time it just right such that the whole body is not drenched each time.  IMG_5685 (2)One wave manages to trip Ted up and he goes under. DSC01096 (3) It is a shock but he recovers from the shock and indignity and it can be filed away as a useful experience.IMG_5690 (2)

If we are going to get to Cape Town in time to go up Table Mountain we must leave the beach, although we would have happily spent a day there doing beachy things. DSC01095 (2).JPG Piling into the car we head for Cape Town and the road that winds up to the point where we will take the Aerial Cableway. IMG_5693 (2) We do not have to queue for long and we are soon being borne aloft.  The ride only lasts five minutes and we reach the summit which is 1,089 metres above Cape Town.  TableMountainSummitWe are drawn up into the small atrium which serves as the station. IMG_5700 (2) Once you are up on top of the world you can sit and soak up the commanding 360-degree views of Cape Town, Table Bay, the nearby peaks of the surrounding mountains and the rest of the Table Mountain National Park, a World Heritage Site.IMG_5698 (2) It is renowned for its flora, said to be the single richest floristic area in the world. There is a lot of fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants. There are also plenty of Cape Hyrax (rock badgers), lizards, insects and birdlife.IMG_5720 (2)IMG_5711 (2)

The plan is to eat in the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.  We do a quick change in our capacious vehicle then head out into the network of malls and pedestrian precincts.  Charlotte and I seek out shops that might sell a scarf that I saw in one of the shops adjacent to the Table Mountain ticket office, but failed to buy because I did not have any rand on me at the time.  Ted is also due for a treat, a Lego one and he finds a kit he will go on to make single-handed.  After this little bit of retail activity we rejoin Ry and Nick in Quay 4 for a drink then go on to Karibu for dinner.

Swimming with a pair of Jackasses

IMG_5577 (2)resizeAfter our first night in South Africa we set off from the hotel with a full and varied day ahead; we will enjoy some wonderful experiences.  As we leave Hout Bay and start the drive southwest around the coast, with cliffs on our landward side, we can look back into Hout Bay.  IMG_5581 (2)resize

We follow the headland round until we are below Chapman’s Peak and have a clear view of a long stretch of pale sands on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula.  This is Noordhoek which means ‘north corner’.  Noordhoek itself is a small scattered community of nice houses, often with sea views and has a large horse population as riding on the long sandy beach is a great attraction. Many artists live in Noordhoek.  We stop here and walk across the sands to the shoreline.  Ted finds a wide shallow pool at midtide level.  IMG_5588 (2)resizeThe breakers are beautiful as they roll onto the fine sands to dissipate, sweep clean and level the pristine surface of the beach.  And we are the only people on this beach to enjoy the expansive sunlit sands. Ted and I find random ‘detritus’: small bleached bones, a bird beak, large mussel shell clackers.  IMG_5610 (2)resize

We bundle ourselves into the car and continue our route to Kalk Bay.  Here the Perrymans will refind a previous haunt, The Brass Bell, a lively restaurant with a sea frontage in this quirky, arty harbour village.  There is a plunge pool and a roof restaurant.  We install ourselves where we can look down into the transparent waters of the intertidal and have a good view of the trains as they roll past.  IMG_5623 (2)resizeWe have a drink and a lunchtime bite then CJ, Ted and I leave the men to start up a conversation with adjacent diners whilst we do a quick tour of certain art shops to scout for pictures.  The Perrymans have some wall space to fill and they like to buy African.  We do see a very beautiful canvas of a rocky, kelpy seascape close to Hout Bay but it is possibly just too large to go on the chimney breast which CJ has in mind.  I buy a few cards and a bracelet with bone pieces which I will go on to wear during the holiday.

We return to find the men being thoroughly chatted up, extract them and then take the car to a place called Simon’s Town where, at Boulders Beach, there is a wild penguin colony.  IMG_5645 (2)resizeIt is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders (540 million years old), from which the name originated. The penguins settled there in 1982. WP_20170328_16_23_43_Pro (2).jpgYou can observe these birds (Spheniscus demersus) at close range, as they wander freely.  IMG_5656 (2)resize From just two breeding pairs in 1982, the penguin colony has grown to about 3,000 birds in recent years. IMG_5651 (2)resizeThe penguins are best viewed from Foxy Beach, where newly constructed boardwalks take visitors to within a few meters of the birds.

At a small beach adjacent to the main penguin colony site we swam and were joined by a few penguins in the water!  WP_20170328_16_18_53_Pro (2)What an experience.

Calamari at Chapman’s Peak

Driving broadly southwest out of Cape Town we are heading for Hout Bay.  We are booked into the Chapman’s Peak Hotel, which will prove to be ideal on many fronts.   capetown_map

Our route will take us along the coast road, along frontages with some very smart properties at Bantry Bay and Camps Bay.  I notice that there are extensive kelp beds and it seems that, unlike native shores in the UK, the kelp is visible throughout the tidal cycle.  We arrive at the hotel and check into our rooms.  We have views from the balcony into Hout Bay.  The restaurant is well-known for its Calamari, and has a large terrace with  views across the bay, beach and valley. Calamari at The Chapmans Peak Hotel was voted “one of top 20 things to do in Cape Town”. Seafood platters and steaks are also popular items.  We ordered Calamari for dinner that first night; it was the best we had ever eaten.

The following morning Charlotte and Teddy knocked on our door and suggested we pull our curtains.  Behold a sandy bay, with a few walkers enjoying the early morning tranquility of a sparsely populated beach.  CJ, Ted and I went down to the coffee shop, bought a carry-out drink and walked the sands as a pre-breakfast treat.  There was an isolated rock just offshore, with large blue sea anemones attached but which was encircled by a potentially treacherous moat, masked as it was by the turbid water.  Too deep to approach that morning I intended to investigate on another occasion.  Were the anemones this species?7108177501_dd402cf00d_zblueanemone

Ted and I walked barefoot at the water’s edge, watching the wavelets as they came, gobbling up the sand grains, and scrabbling up the beach.  I am minded now of John Betjeman’s poem ‘Beside the Seaside’:

And all the time the waves, the waves, the waves
Chase, intersect and flatten on the sand
As they have done for centuries, as they will …
When England is not England, when mankind
Has blown himself to pieces. Still the sea,
Consolingly disastrous, will return
While the strange starfish, hugely magnified,
Waits in the jewelled basin of a pool.”

Nick watched us with his camera from the balcony of our room ……..DSC01241 (2)resize

At breakfast we were greeted by the owner of the hotel, Carlos, who has been in business here for fifty years.  He tells us that his calamari is world-renowned, that the Clintons visited the hotel specifically to dine on it some years previously.  The roads round about had to be closed off during their visit, apparently. 17554087_10154263567936126_3834364302247283591_nHoutBay

Before we head off for the day some of us check out the outdoor pool, it’s a bit chilly!

Razor-clamming Days

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

Twilight at Sunset and a Falling Star

The last full week of January would be busy.  On my list I wish to make a visit to Stella in Cornwall.  Wrapped into that journey will be an errand to be carried out on the beach at Fistral Bay, an overnight stay with a nephew by marriage who lives close by.  I will drive back to my home in Dorset via the village of Hawkchurch on the east margin of Devon to spend a couple of days with my sister.

So I sally forth, as I do, on Monday just before lunchtime.  I am rather later than I had intended as I wish to catch a falling tide at Fistral Bay at the end of the afternoon.  When I make the long drive to Cornwall on my own I like to take an easy-to-handle sandwich to eat as it helps to break up the monotony.  Unfortunately the bread makes me sleepy and I must pull over to rest my bleary eyes.  Just under half an hour later I resume the journey and drive to Atlantic Road, Newquay where I leave my car in the first carpark I see.  Unfortunately it is not the nearest in terms of access to the shore by a long chalk, and I needs must ask an itinerant who is sloping along the cliff path plugged into ear-phones and his rolling gait, and demeanour when I speak to him, tell me he is within a gnat’s whisker of being spaced out.  He is on the way to the Spa to buy some tinnies he tells me.  But he is amiable enough and helpful.  It takes me a good quarter of an hour to gain the sand dunes which back the wide sandy bay with its rock platform well exposed on the northeastern margin.

I’ve come to collect some Glycymeris shells, Dog Cockles, the large, showy white clam shells with a chestnut-coloured chevron pattern and which were so popular with the ancients.  They collected the pleasing round shells as talismans, as pendants to string and probably for a range of other purposes for which we can only guess.  In life the robust clams inhabit coarse sand and shelly gravel.  The species is edible and is offered for sale in France under the name ‘Amande de Mer’ meaning Sea Almond.  ese were not collected for food; their worn, beach-abraded condition sometimes with a natural hole worn at the umbo, as they are excavated at archaeological sites, testifies to the fact that they were picked up as dead shells.  Will I find any today?

Right at the top of the beach, in the upper shore sand churned by many footprints and not washed by the tide in recent days, the first shells I find are two Dog Cockles, each holed.  I am much relieved.  I need these shells to create a figure for one of the chapters I have contributed to a forthcoming box, Molluscs in Archaeology, to be published by Oxbow.  The sun has only just set and the light is fading.  I give the search a good half hour and collect x whole or nearly whole shells of which y bear a hole at the umbo.

I had arrived on the beach in the late afternoon as the sun was making hste to sink behind the distant Pentire headland.  In the twilight I allow myself time to look around and appreciate this place.  There are plenty of late afternoon walkers, many with dogs.  In the distance I can see lots of figures surfing.  A couple of youngsters catch my eye.  They are standing on the open wet sands, talking.  I love their stance, the body language I imply.  I hope they have not a care in the world.  The young are our investment for the future.  Luckily my mobile phone has charge; I take some photos, they turn out really well.IMG_5440 (3).JPG

Clutching my bag of shells I find the track down which I came to access the beach.  At the top I have two options.  I can retrace my steps across the golf course or I can hang a right and walk along a track at the top of the dunes towards the street-lit headland to the south west.  I’ve been walking a while and asked a couple of walkers if I am going the right way.  They seem to think I am.  Then I spot a chap in a hooded anorak sitting on a bench gazing out to sea.  I ask him the way and discover I have chosen to take myself well out of my way and it will be a longish walk back to my car.  It’s clear he is not entirely sure which carpark I used.  In the end he offers to give me a lift.  I don’t hesitate for long, he is pleasant and I see he is a decent and mature man when he takes down his hood and I am going to give good human nature the benefit of doubt.  We talk and it turns out he has a daughter in archaeology, he knows about Littorina, he is interested in landscape, the environment.

Gaining my car I phone Richard and Anne Oliver who live in Redruth and tell them I am on my way.  They are giving me B&B and I am going to take them to dinner at the Penventon Park Hotel which is some 200 metres from their house.  Anne greets me and we get to know more about each other over coffee.  I hear about the work she does in social services, she is a jigsaw fan  When Richard gets back we go to dinner and have a delicious meal in the spacious and slightly retro dining room of the grandiose hotel.  I have a jolt of uncertainty as we are shown to our table.  Piano music greets the ear and I see that our entertainer is a woman in a backless and flesh-coloured dress.  For a fleeting moment I think she is naked!

The following day I go to see my friend Stella Maris.  She lives in one of Cornwall’s Secret Places.  She is in her early 90s and her health started declining rapidly about three or four years ago.  These last years are years I don’t believe she would have wished for herself.  I feel this to be so because we talked often.  Now she is bedridden, has dementia and has all her personal needs met by carers who visit several times a day.  Her life-time companion, Rose, shares the cottage with Stella and is kind, solicitous and, with the help of carers and friends, keeps their boat afloat.  This seems fit because for the majority of their shared life it would be Stella who kept house for them both, who occupied herself with all their day to day routine as well as carrying on with her own work in biological recording.  Rose would spend hours in her ivory tower, working on her botanical books.  She has several to her credit.

Stella is a star whose light is dimming, slowly and inexorably.  Each time I see her she is diminished and I marvel that, given how little she eats, she yet has reserves to hang onto her life.  I have brought a book to read to her, Hare by Jim Crumley.   Stella says very little these days but I can tell that the reading gives her pleasure.  I guess this is the comfort of a human voice, and one, in truth, that she knows well.

 

 

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

razorclamprep-2

At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

A Day with Simon and the Pieman

And so it begins.  The annual jamboree with my clique of CS friends has come round all too quickly.  Which means in the blink of an eye, not that it is a chore.  At least I hope it will not be.  This September we might have to cope with an elephant in our midst.  Wait and see.

Saturday we converge on a very pleasant converted barn near Bantham.  Seven of us will share this abode for a week.  There is an adjacent building that goes with the property, a games room which will serve very nicely as a lab.  Nick and I arrive first to open up and bag a room.  We leave the lovely master suite for one couple on that basis that one of them is convalescent.  There are three other rooms with beds to sleep six people.  Although all rooms on a sharing basis are equal, clearly some rooms are more equal than others.  Nick and I have a couple of hours before anyone else arrives which allows me to make a start on the turrid material I have brought to curate.  These are from Stella Turk’s collection and will be useful, even though many of them have no locality data, because turrid specimens are few and far between.

Gradually the others arrive.  Hail fellow and well met.  We all move into our rooms and I serve the assembled a fish pie for supper followed by a plum tart.

On Sunday we are going to North Sands Bay, Salcombe which is the shore below the Winking Prawn café.  Once parked I need a comfort break so Nick and I repair to said Whistling Whelk so I can use the facilities and take in a flat white.  It is then time to hit the shore and I follow the cliffs on the left hand side of the bay and make for the lowest point on the shore.  There are a few shady recesses with weak crevice development which might be hopeful for the usual suspects but although there are plenty of winkles about it is not a propitious habitat.  cupcoralretracted  caryophyllia3By the time I reach the waters edge, if I look around towards the outcrop on top of which is perched the old Fort Charles, there is enough shore to start turning stones and rolling boulders.  Time flies when you are engrossed in staring at the undersides of rocks on a shore.  Together with the rest of the group which includes Simon the Marine Recorder we plodge around in the shallows and together manage to compile a respectable list of mollusc species.

Reaching the law of diminishing returns Nick and I eat our sandwich on the beach then repair to our car in the carpark of the Wisecracking Wentletrap.  After I process the small amount of rockscrubbings and weedwashings and sit down to compile the joint list on paper we have recorded 64 species of mollusc and one Devonshire cup coral……….. and still counting.  Whilst restricting myself to the amount of weed etc that I take back to the lab., I do collect some cushion stars (Asterina gibbosa) to see if by any chance they will be harbouring one of the tiny mollusc species.  When I get back to the house I put these little treasures into a shallow dish of seawater to see what if anything might crawl out.  After my picnic lunch on the beach Nick and I drive back to the house so that I can start to process my samples.

Peter the Pieman is in charge of supper.  That’s great, I can just get on with my stuff and after we have eaten I can barely stay awake and after a fruitless attempt to interact with the internet (it is suffering from too many residents and not enough go-go juice) I go to bed where I promptly fall asleep in front of the printed word with my glasses on my nose.

 

 

An Elephant called Brexit

If only packing clothes, assembling collecting kit, provisions, wine and all the other preparations needed to close down one’s base in order to establish another temporary one could be seamless. And without contretemps.  It seems that even after 48 years of marriage it is not to be.

So we get up on Friday morning early and stow the car, lock our front door and set off.   At least the morning has gone smoothly.  Five minutes into our journey I realise I have not brought quite enough of my current medicaments.  If that is the only oversight I will be pleased indeed.

Before we fetch up at our holiday house at Bantham we are calling in to see my sister who has a consultant coming to advise on the installation of a borehole and Nick is going to help Liz with her decisions.  It is a big step but a necessary one since the fouling of her water supply by a local farmer with his accidental polluting spillage on his land.  After the meeting Nick and I have some spare hours so we drive into Lyme Regis where we have to call in at a shop to change a tee-shirt.  Lyme is very busy, lively, with tourists, and the sun is shining.  We think it would be a great place to bring Martine and Alain when they come to see us.  We did indeed come here with Claire and Ty earlier in the year, on a wet May afternoon and the place was still steeped in atmosphere.  I discover a second hand bookshop down by the Cobb and whilst Nick plods up the hill to collect our car I indulge myself for half an hour and find four additional Booker nominee titles to add to my collection.  Turns out that the book shop, called The Sanctuary, is also a B&B.sanctuarybookshop1

We hope to call in and see Paul and Viv but they are not at home so we drive back to Hawkchurch where Liz will cook us an amazing supper of Escargots aux Cepes.  It is a confection of snails and wild mushrooms and consists of garlic and parsley buttered escargots removed from their shells which are lightly stewed with a tasty melange of fungi.  Liz has gathered Chanterelles from her private source, up her lane, which it seems no-one else has noticed.  Together with her own dried Cepes the fricassee is then placed in a flaky pastry base and topped with a coil of pastry to form a cap.  Well it is beyond just tasty.

In the morning Nick and I must rise and shine and head for Bantham to open up the house for the others.  Our task this week, inter alia, will be to ignore the elephant in the room as far as is possible.