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

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A Time for Reconnecting and Saying Goodbye

A couple of days after our return from South Africa Nick and I drive to Bath to meet up with one of Nick’s long-standing and very good friends.  He and Nick worked together, in the sense that John as a lawyer worked for companies that employed Nick over a period of years.  Think the old Stalin and Genghis Khan joke and you have their political standpoints.  The last time Stalin took on Genghis Khan was when we sailed with Nigel in Croatia…………  Ostensibly we are meeting in Bath so that we can eat fish and chips at John’s favourite chippie.  But first it seems right that we should sing for our supper so we meet at the gates of the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden with a view to walking. DSC00010 (2)40 It is a beautiful 18th century landscape garden with one of only four Palladian bridges of the Prior Park design in the world.   The garden was created by local entrepreneur Ralph Allen, with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and the poet Alexander Pope.  The garden is set in a sweeping valley where visitors can enjoy magnificent views of Bath. Restoration of the ‘Wilderness’ has reinstated the Serpentine Lake, Cascade and Cabinet.

Afterwards we head back into the city for our date with Seafoods Traditional Fish and Chips.  We are a bit early so we find a bar and order the cocktail of the day.  It was over-priced and over the top and I cannot remember the ingredients although sitting here at the screen at something short of 5 p.m. I could really fancy one now.  The fish and chips lives up to expectations and we drive home after a spell of quality time with good friends.

The ensuing week is social because we have been away and have friends to reconnect with.   The day after our F&C moment we host a Bookish Lunch at TOW with the Shaxsons, Celia Cas and Jan D.  At the end of the week we do a Jigsaw Evening in which the McGoverns participate.  It’s the Bookish jigsaw, the fun bookshelves with Pun Titles.

There’s more Bookish stuff the following week when Chrissie hosts our soup lunch and chat.  Fellow conchologist and garrulant (you read this word here first) comes to visit on Tuesday.  We talk shells all day.  He lives in Lancashire and seldom travels south and is staying with mutual friends near Wimborne.  He invites us back for a curry at their home on Friday and we engineer that we can accept this on the basis that it will be an early meal and we will be done and dusted in time to pick up Anne P from Poole as she arrives from Cherbourg ready for our willow workshop with Kim.

The day after Ian’s visit I get up early to drive to Cornwall for the funeral of my dear friend Stella Turk.  It is a humanist ceremony which I so connect with.  No singing of hymns in thin reedy voices but readings and tributes from friends and family.  The wicker casket sits before us in the airy chapel perched on a hill and I look through the windows out onto the landscape that Stella knew so well because her cottage is a stone’s throw from where we are sitting. StellaTurkCrem There are many attendees and I meet up with some friends and associates from my marine biological recording days, Richard Warwick, Keith Hiscock, some great and good from the Cornish Wildlife Trust.  They all look so much older, I suppose they think the same of me.  Pam T finds me and points out Jayne Herbert, she who has compiled a selection of Stella’s verse and printed a few copies.

I am cornered several times and by the time I can escape so has Jayne.  We later establish contact via email.  We may collaborate on getting more of Stella’s verse into print.  For the time being Jayne has a page devoted to Stella’s poetry on her website.  At the end of a long day I drive back to Hawkchurch where I am fed and have a chance to catch up with my sister.  Before I leave the next morning we walk a bit in the private woodlands owned by her neighbour.

 

Busy as We Like it

Over one busy weekend Nick and I spread ourselves about.  We attended a meeting of the Conchological Society at the Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road.  We heard an interesting talk on some work that is being carried out on the land snails of the Galapagos Islands.  At the end of the meeting we drove to Godalming to catch up with Ted and his parents.  We went to dinner at The Withies which still manages to please after all these forty years since we bought our house in Pep Road.  Nick and I would go there for a very occasional meal and blow the budget for an expensive treat.

On Sunday morning there was just time to eat a bacon sandwich with the Perrymans before it was necessary to load up and drive to Sutton, to the home of a former friend and colleague in conchology.  It was Phil’ Palmer who first drew me into science, causing me to shift from an enthusiastic dabbler in shell collecting  to an aspiring scientist with an every-growing passion for British marine shells.  I owe Phil’ much and encounters with his like surely altered the course of my life.16265715_1841127292832959_5561275612268152045_n

And after that we had an important date in Oxfordshire.  Our eldest grandchild is going to be sixteen, for goodness sake.  Where did that childhood go?!  He’s a star and we spent a very happy moment at the tea party his mother had arranged for the rellies.

And then it was time to drive home and prepare for my forthcoming week on the road.

 

 

 

A Village Week, a Falling Star and a Plethora of Shells

Arriving back in the UK on Tuesday, we drove back to our village where Book Group would be meeting in the afternoon at our usual venue, The Greyhound pub.  We discussed Driving Over Lemons, a rather lack-lustre read for me.  I was not engaged by the author, former Genesis drummer Chris Stewart, at all.  Generally his genre, sort of travel books, is not my cup of tea.  A few wasted hours then, but in the interests of village involvement I stick with it.  Bridge the following evening was altogether more stimulating and on Thursday I factored in a yoga lesson, a visit on Friday to see Mum and on Friday evening the McGoverns and Cadecs came for a curry supper.  What with the village walk on Saturday I felt back on track with village activities.  We walked in wind, rain and cold but it didn’t matter.  A decent pub lunch followed.  An optional extra on Sunday was a SSAFA curry lunch at Bryanston School.

The week that followed was largely spent out of the county.  On Monday I drove there and back to see my dear friend Stella Maris, who is a fading star.  She has been a leading light in my adventures with shells.  Now, in her 90s, she is a tired lady, destined before long to become stardust.  How lovely that she knows me, smiles with pleasure as she recognises my name, my voice.  It is just a whirlwind of a visit to the Camborne area.  I meet Pam at the cottage so we can sort out some of Stella’s collections that need to be rehomed.  This is a job she started as much as 15 years ago, perhaps longer.  In the interval she has assiduously sought out people and institutions to whom she could pass on useful objects and books.  Once Pam and I have completed our task I take her, Rose and Andrew to lunch.  We return to Shang-ri La to await the arrival of Dave Fenwick who is coming to collect some shells and after tea round table in the parlour I head for Dorset with some boxes of this and that including a small collection of Drift Seeds and Sea Beans.

On Wednesday Nick and I slip down to Clifford Bridge to say with our very good friends, Bas and Rosemary.  Bas and I have plans to work through his shelly queries, gleanings from the hauls of seabed sediment that were taken during boatwork which took place during the field trip to North Wales.  I took three of these dredged samples back to The Old Workshop to process, sieve, sort, identify.  I think Bas must have worked through at least ten such hauls.  There are lots of specimens to look at because Bas is nothing if not meticulous.  This is a man for whom the maxim that ‘the best is the enemy of the good’ could be a blessing and a curse!

ConundrumsDSC00257

During our visit we give a day to walking the land around Haytor, taking in the famous granite tramway and some exceptional Hut circles in the neighbourhood of Hound Tor.  It is quite a long trek, intermittently uphill and downalong and we feel virtuous when we return to Mill House for lunch and a short nap for me and Rosemary.  Our treat is to eat at the very special Old Inn at Drewsteignton.

On Friday morning we cannot tarry for long.  There is just time for me to spend an hour or so working through a few more of Bas’ samples before we have to leave for Winterborne K because I have a special family party to prepare for on Sunday 21st.

 

Golfing Greens and Sea Grass Beds

With the late arrival, on Saturday night, of our Marine Recorder, Simon Taylor, we are nine in residence at Bryn Engan.  Before we head for our shore of the day the five conchologists in our number have time to set up stations in the ‘dry lab’,  Blog-DryLaba small weatherproof outbuilding which harbours a small pool table around which we erect temporary work benches to accommodate our microscopes and associated paraphernalia.

There is also a wet lab of sorts, a larger stable with a ping pong table, which is served by the outside tap where we must sieve our samples.  It works.  We just lack sea water on tap and late on Sunday evening an excursion to a local beach is made to fill the two large plastic containers which Ian Smith has brought.   Blog-PhotoStudioIan needs to set up his photographic equipment and eventually settles on the front porch!

On Sunday our shore of the day is Porth Dinllaen, a stretch of coast which has been surveyed on previous Conch Soc field trips under the auspices of Tom Clifton the former area recorder for Anglesey and the Lleyn.

Porth Dinllaen at Morfa Nefyn, is a rocky peninsula projecting northwards with a small harbour of east side and more craggy and less accessible coast on the west.MorfaNefynInternet  With special dispensation we park at the golf club there and walk the tarmacked right of way that crosses the greens and more than once to the shout of ‘Fore’ we duck because misguided golf balls are heading our way.  To our left as we walk north there is a string of pocket beaches which look promising, if difficult of access.  Some of our number head for the tip of the small peninsula.

I decide to work the east harbour,porthdinllaenInternet and as we are on the shore well ahead of low tide, I focus on the upper shore noting Littorina compressa to be common.  LittorinaCompressa1

Despite careful searching none of us on that shore finds Melarhaphe neritoides nor much else in the way of upper shore crevice dwelling molluscs, although I do later obtain Lasaea adansoni from my Lichina sample.  Blog-2JanZosteraReally I am waiting to see if the ebbing tide will reveal the extensive Zostera beds I recall from previous visits.  Zostera is otherwise known as eelgrass (which is a good name) or seawrack which is a bad name as Zostera is a grass, a flowering plant, not an alga or seaweed.   (At Studland in Dorset there are now seahorses breeding amongst the Zostera there).  ZosteraInternet1Sure enough as more of the sand flats are revealed, so also is the green turf, which losing its buoyancy in the water, flops onto the silty sands losing its grace and mobility, which are features to enjoy when wading Zostera beds in shallow water.  I am stymied for sampling as I have slipped up by forgetting to bring a sieve of suitable mesh size in order to sieve some sediments associated with the sea grass, taking sand from small bare patches where the roots of the sea grass are not disturbed.  Even so I might have expected to see a scattering of shells of the species that inhabit this particular biotope.

We do find valves and fragments of the showy venerid clam Callista chione.CallistaChioneInternet2  This is a large bivalve with a handsome polished shell.  It is also edible although you would be wise to cook Callista first as attempts to swallow it raw and whole may be met with resistance from the large muscular foot.   Unlike the passive and hapless oyster!  My species list for the site is otherwise paltry.  With the law of diminishing returns in force we decide to take our paltry haul of specimens back to the ‘lab’ leaving our stalward Marine Recorder working the little pocket beaches we passed on our way to the shore. Blog-SimonPorthDinllaen

Who ate all the pies?  Well, we did; our evening meal being contributed by Peter whose local butcher makes fine meat pies.  Followed by his blackberry and apple crumbles we are replete and can settle to sorting our samples.