Thursday, 10 September 2009


In the spring of perhaps the year 1932 a lusty Devon lad, he might have been all of twenty seven, with his Kraft durch Freude girlfriend, Monica, was staying in one of the little bungalows that in those days stood at the Exmouth tip of Dawlish Warren. His name was Raymond Bernard Cattell. One day the local fisherman, one Bill Luscombe, who had made it his business to deliver food, letters, newspapers and drinking water to the several bungalow dwellers on the Warren, brought to Cattell unknowingly (“If I had told him it was a boat” writes young Raymond “he would have laughed his head off.”) packages containing a build it yourself, collapsible, German, two man, sailing canoe. Cattell and his friend Monica assembled this boat on the sands of the Warren and for her first voyage they paddled off up the Exe and into the Clyst. They skimmed over the weir at the Bridge Inn, had a jolly day up the Clyst and then paddled back by moonlight not without some curiously related adventures which can be read in Cattell’s 1937 book Under Sail in Red Devon.

No doubt many have made that trip up the Clyst before and since but what I think makes this story of interest is the fact that Cattell went on to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most celebrated psychologists. His life was truly illustrious and when he died in Honolulu in 1998 he had spent sixty years teaching and experimenting on the far side of the Atlantic. Countless psychology students, myself included, knew his name from his many heuristic experiments. For a long time I owned and enjoyed his Under Sail in Red Devon but never suspected the intrepid young canoeist and author was the self same man as the great American psychologist.

Tomorrow: a pretty poem entitled Cormorant.

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