Monday, 31 May 2010

GEMS OF THE RIVER

Sunlight on the flood
and a sharp breeze chops ripples
into emeralds,
diamonds, sapphires, rubies;
but not for plump princesses.

Midnight and the flood
and the flashing buoys tumble
jewels brighter yet
deep into our dark channels
where no thief can come to them.

Gems of the river,
the more precious not to have
served time round the necks
of ritzy women or in
some sound and safe deposit.

Friday, 28 May 2010

SALMON FISHING IN NINETEEN TWENTY TWO

In 1922 the salmon season began on the first of March. There were two boats fishing from Exmouth, fifteen from Topsham and six from Lympstone. Between them these boats took five hundred salmon in the first week of the season.

The largest single catch was made by a Lympstone boat. There were thirty nine fish leaping in the bunt of the net. The next best catch was made by a Topsham boat, a poor second with sixteen salmon. The record catch, remembered from the April of a few years before, was of fifty six fish in one haul. I would like to have seen that!

The Exmouth Journal reported: “…It is a great advantage that the fish this seaon are being taken and marketed, thus assisting the exchequers of many a poor household, making possible the payment of tradesmen’s bills long overdue … For some months past the salmon fishermen of the Exe have had an exceedingly lean time, and the present abundance of fish is a veritable godsend to them.”

How precarious they must have been in those workhouse days, the 'exchequers' of the Estuary's fishing families!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

THE BABY IN THE MUD

On a March day in 1909 the water-bailiff in the employ of the Exe Board of Conservators, Thomas Robert Luxon, was walking along the banks of the Exe between Turf and Powderham when he saw a dead baby in the mud about five feet from the bank. Mr Luxon fetched Police Constable Acland from Starcross who picked the child out of the Estuary. She was a little girl.

The tiny muddied corpse was carried to the doctor at Starcross, Mr John Hyde Iles, surgeon. John Iles was thirty three years old and at the beginning of his long working life in Starcross which was to last for another forty years. He was no stranger to death. After Cambridge, he had served as a volunteer in the war against the Boers and he had come to Starcross having been for some years the house surgeon at the Victoria Hospital for Children, Chelsea.

There needed to be an inquest even for so slight a person as this dead baby. It was held at the Church House, Powderham. John Iles told the Coroner and the jury that the body had probably been in the water for a couple of days. There was a mark on the left chin, caused by a fish bite. He had concluded that the child had been prematurely born and there was no evidence that she had ever had a separate existence. The baby had been stillborn.

No one had any idea whose child this might be and there seems to have been very little curiosity. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.

I find it strangely moving, this inconsequential tale of the baby in the mud and the fish that bit the infant chin.

Monday, 24 May 2010

THE INVITATION

The morning sun looks over a green field,
Over a ragged hedgerow then a yellow field,
A hedgerow, then a brown field with a barn,
A hedgerow, then a golden field and a wood high on the hill.

At each field’s southern margin, stunted trees
Scribble the invitation in black line
With here and there the red cliff’s underlining.
For this is where the land ends.
Beyond this limit the deep blue sea
Beckons to a calm horizon under a better sky.

For those who would read it
These margins still spell out their weasel promises,
Promises that have drawn so many sanguine souls
Across big seas in small boats.

The many who ventured forth to fight foreign wars,
The many who ended their days captive in distant ports,
The many who sailed to settle empty lands,
Some to fortune, more to fever,
A few to swing in chains.

This sea has drowned enough of them
Whose bones still wander and wash with the pull of the moon.

Me, I’ll have none of it. I’ll look away
To the wheatfield, gold in the sun,
And the woods high on the hill.

Friday, 21 May 2010

A GLORIOUS DAY


Not only did the rhymster Vicar of Salcombe Regis, Philip Avant, (See, if you so wish, this blog for 6th May,) witness the coming of the French Fleet in 1690 but he was also joyful witness to William of Orange’s arrival in Torbay on 5th November 1688 and his triumphant progress to Exeter.

The ships, Philip Avant tells us, left Torbay as soon as they had disembarked the troops and then, with the cannon still on board, they came up the Exe. There were three hundred of them. Their skeely skippers sailed them in convoy around Exmouth Point and into the channels of the Exe and what a sight that must have been, three hundred transports, sailing up with the tide, gliding before an onshore breeze. “Three hundred Sail here safe arriv’d, and brought/ That Comfort which poor England long had sought.”

That November day must surely rate as one of the Estuary’s most glorious.

“When Orange with his Host, Batavians and
Other brave Hero’s gain’d Torbaia’s Strand,
The Fleet weighs Anchor thence, to Topsham bends
Her Course and soon obtains what she intends.
The Wind her Favours, through the mouth of Ex
She safely enters in despight of Styx:
Topsham receives the Cannon at her key;
And thence to Exon doth them soon convey,
The Prince mean while, welcome on land proceeds,
Whilst Dev’n o’erjoy’d admires his pious deeds.”

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

SCOUTS ON DAWLISH WARREN


Scouting for Boys was first published in six fortnightly parts between January and March 1908. In no time at all there were Scout troops at Dawlish, Newton Abbot, Ashburton and Exmouth. In those days they were referred to as the Baden-Powell Scouts and as well as Scoutmasters there were Quartermasters. The Dawlish Troop was called ‘the Haldon Troop’ and the Newton Abbot troop was called ‘the Haytor Troop’. All these scouts planned a Field Day together on Dawlish Warren in the first week of June 1909.

The business of the day was to play a Wide Game called ‘Flag Raiding’. This game is described by Baden-Powell in Scouting for Boys. It requires some scouts to hide and defend their flags while other scouts creep about and try to capture them. The rules are quite complex.

The Warren must have been the best place in the world. Where better for little lads to wriggle around than in and out of those glorious sand hills between the river and the sea? In the event the Ashburton troop were not able to turn up but the others must have had fun galore creeping about, finding ‘enemy’ positions, attacking, writing reports, sketching and mapmaking, snatching flags.

The dark thought though is that these same little lads, crawling about in the sunshine, had a Great War looming over them like a giant’s boot.

Monday, 17 May 2010

WHAT LOVE IS NOT.

Love is not the Beaufort Scale.
It sizes up no Calm or Storm.
It neither bids you press on Sail
Nor tells you when to stay at Home.

It does not list the Times of Tides;
It calculates no Ebbs and Flows;
Unlike the Admiralty Charts
It promulgates no Highs and Lows.

And Love is not that Longshoreman
Who tells you how to sail your Boat
And how, despite the Gusts, you can
Make good your Course and stay afloat.


Friday, 14 May 2010

OF MANY DROWNINGS

On October 14th 1922, eight days after the drowning of Captain Garnsworthy and Pilot Pym, (See this blog for 28th April 2010) this column appeared in the Exmouth Journal under the title, “TRAGIC COINCIDENCE”:

“The hand of coincidence has been very much in evidence in connection with the disappearance of the sailing boat Primrose last week. It has been already stated that Capt. Garnsworthy’s grandfather, father, brother and one son had previously met their deaths by drowning. The chain of circumstance in connection with Mr Samuel Pym, the Exmouth pilot who accompanied Capt. Garnsworthy in the Primrose is equally remarkable. In 1896 two Exmouth pilots, William Pym and George Carnell, were drowned when going to the assistance of a vessel in distress on the bar.

George Carnell was succeeded by his son, Charles Carnell. The latter was drowned off Teignmouth in 1909 when out with a pleasure party of seven passengers. His place as an Exmouth pilot was taken by Samuel Pym who now appears to have met a similar fate. The William Pym who was involved in the 1896 disaster was not a member of the same family as Samuel Pym.

Although a keen look-out has been maintained, it is not anticipated that any discovery will be made until the bodies rise to the surface, usually on the ninth day. Local fishermen will therefore go out in considerable numbers to-day and cruise around in the neighbourhood of the Wreck buoy in the hope of recovering the bodies from the sea. It is not a pleasant task but there is not a boatman who would not go to any trouble in order to snatch from the sea its dead. It is a curious fact that most seafarers dread the thought of drowning less than the possibility of their bodies remaining undiscovered.”


But the sea did not readily give up the dead that were in it. The body of Samuel Pym was not found until it was washed up on Oddicombe beach on October 22nd. I don’t know where or when Captain Garnsworthy reappeared.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

CAPSIZE

Squire Headlong, in Thomas Love Peacock’s Headlong Hall, had a pleasure boat, “which he steered with amazing dexterity; but as he always indulged himself in the utmost possible latitude of sail, he was occasionally upset by a sudden gust, and was indebted to his skill in the art of swimming for the opportunity of tempering with a copious libation of wine the unnatural frigidity introduced into his stomach by the extraordinary intrusion of water, an element which he had religiously determined should never pass his lips..”

Nowadays there is a whole lot of capsizing going on in the Estuary, where the salt water calls all the louder for a copious libation after the event, but the dinghies mostly seem to bob up again like so many kellymen and the wetsuited, drysuited crews of today are wonderfully independent and seem to be as happy in the water as they are out of it.

All new boats liable to capsize are now declared capsizable and are lumbered with an alarming mark depicting a surreal boat lying diametrically upside down beneath the water, her keel pointing to heaven and her sail still fluttering beneath the wave. This labelling is there no doubt to comply with contemporary regulations and my Poppy came to me so blemished but I have presumed to unscrew the ugly brown plastic label that would also dictate how many people might sail in her, to wit: four, and how much baggage a lone sailor may take with him, viz. 300 kilograms, and square it away. As yet she has not capsized.

If she has not yet capsized it is because, unlike Squire Headlong, I seldom indulge myself in the utmost possible latitude of sail. Now and again, when running, the wind veers behind her and with the ensuing jibe the lug bangs like a cannon and the boat suffers an extraordinary intrusion of water over the rails but no worse than that.

If she were to capsize I have to admit I don’t know whether I could right her. In a sailing dinghy the leverage of the centreboard is all important to the capsize drill and my Poppy has no centreboard. Moreover the manuals assume two people will right a boat and the lone sailor would seem to be at a disadvantage. One day perhaps I shall need to find out if it is possible for one man to set a Scaffie right way up again once she has blown over, meanwhile I trust to reefing and solicitude and need no excuse for copious libations of wine.

Monday, 10 May 2010

STEPHANIE JUPP


CONSTANTILYMPSTONE


"It's just like the Bosphorus!"
the Turkish neighbour says,
as if Powderham Church
had grown a minaret,

the bosky Haldon Hills had
given way to Asian steppes,
and the 9.56 rattling down
to Teignmouth on the other side

were the Orient Express;
"except for the tides, of course"
he adds, thus denying us
those precious hours

when sandbanks
welcome waders
and little boats lie
clinking at their moorings.



Stephanie Jupp grew up in Lympstone 1947-1967, and has spent the last forty years coming back as often as possible.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

POLESTAFFS

Every Estuary salmon fisherman knew what was the polestaff. It was, and no doubt still is, the stout pole shod with metal attached to the shore arm of the seine that is planted firmly in the mud or sand by the shoreman. Being the shoreman was something of a challenge and an honour. I was never so honoured. The job required strength and cunning. By some tides the swing of the net would be so heavy that one would see the shoreman fighting to keep control of the net and being towed along the mud. My skipper would regularly bid the shoreman take care by telling him to remember Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was in fact his great uncle who had been drowned in the Estuary while fishing. His leg had become tangled with the line and his body was later found with one seaboot off and one seaboot on. There was moreover one in the village who had so twisted his leg while working the net that he was never able to go after the salmon again.

Polestaff is such an unsatisfactory word, it was not like our ancestors to be tautologous, that I wonder if it might be a corruption of pikestaff. Pike is of course an Old English word, an Anglo Saxon word. It is the same pick as in pickaxe. It was one of Shakespeare’s words: (“Trail’st thou the puissant pike?” Pistol asks the disguised King Henry the Fifth.) The polestaff is every inch an inverted pikestaff with its metal clad point. Well I just wonder that’s all!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

UPON TINGMOUTH

The Vicar of Salcombe Regis near Sidmouth, Philip Avant, would have seen, from his own door, the French fleet riding in Torbay on 13th July 1690. Early in the morning several of the French galleys attacked Teignmouth. The French who landed ransacked and plundered the town. In the space of three hours they burnt and destroyed a hundred and sixteen houses, together with eleven ships and barks that were in the harbour. Philip Avant wrote these lines of sympathy with his neighbours, the people of Teignmouth, probably in the same year.


Upon Tingmouth, a Sea-Port Town in Devon;
lately burnt by the French (viz.) in the Month of July, 1690.



O Doleful July! Welcome heretofore,
When fraught with joys thou didst approach each door;

Fatal of late to Tingmouth! Now thou hast
Remov’d those Joys vouchsaf’d in Ages past.

A grateful Season, when the the joyful field
Afforded Food, plenty each house did yield,

The Seas vouchsaf’d Provisions heretofore,
But now the French have wasted all her store.

She which once flourish’d, now in ashes lies,
Not like these many days again to rise;

What was the fate of Troy in ruins laid,
When Priam’s Palace was to Greeks betrayed?

Sad without doubt, o’erwhelmed with grief and tears,
Devour’d by Flames, a doleful sight appears.

Such was the face of Tingmouth, such her fate,
When she sustain’d devouring flames of late;

Whenas she felt the Fury of the Gauls,
Sad is our Fate, when flames devour our walls.

Alas! how many destitute of Home
Wander that they under some roof do come!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

THE LIEUTENANT AND THE SERVANT BOY




It was a Friday, the 29th day of March 1816 and young Walter Folliott was at home on leave. He, at the tender age of nineteen, was already a Lieutenant of Royal Marines who had seen active service aboard His Majesty’s ships. His family had worried about him during his long absence from home and imagined him facing the dangers of war but he had triumphed and had returned home to them safe and sound and they had rejoiced to welcome him. He was a personable young man who, as his death notices in the papers put it, ‘had endeared himself by the most amiable and conciliating manners.’ No doubt he had a conciliating relationship with the servant boy whom he took sailing with him in his pleasure boat.

Walter’s father was Captain Daniel Folliott of the Royal Navy who had served with Admiral Byng off Minorca and who lived at Topsham. He had been born Daniel Follett but later changed his name. Walter's pleasure boat would have put out from the riverside near the Follett house, Follett Lodge, close by the Passage Inn and famous as the birthplace of William Webb Follett. On that blustery March day Walter went sailing on the Estuary and took with him the servant boy who died with him. The servant boy’s death went unnoticed except in so far as he was there, with his master, in a small boat.

When they were sailing past Powderham, the boat was suddenly upset by a gust of wind. They were in the deep waters of the channel. The capsize was seen and within minutes other boats came to the spot but both Walter and the servant boy had disappeared. They had drowned. Of Walter, it was written in the papers of the time that, by his family as well as to a large circle of friends, ‘his loss will be long and severely deplored.’

There is a memorial to young Walter on the walls of Topsham church. The servant boy, of course, gets no mention.

Monday, 3 May 2010

THE MILLENNIUM CURLEW




It is
the last day
of the last year
of the last century
of the last millennium
and I am on the beach at Lympstone.

The tide is swinging.
The mussel-beds are tapping.
The white birds are queueing and calling.

Enter an ancient curlew,
just about two thousand years old.
Hello old bird! What’s new?

He tugs his long, curved bill out from the soft mud,
cocks his head,
gives me the eye.
Before he pushes his long, curved bill back into the soft mud again,
Not a lot! he says




(And can it really be ten years since I wrote this Millennium Curlew? Why, Yes it can. You can’t beat the mathematics of it.)