Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Now, what I like about my broad Estuary is this:
she doesn't encourage me to be petty.

She has never offered me two for one
not even three for two,
not five per cent cashback on all my purchases
nor a thousand points.
She has not yet competed with my home insurer
nor offered me a good deal on my balance transfer.
She would never invite me to fill in questionnaires
or compare prices.
She does not expect me to eat five a day
nor to drink units of alcohol.
She leaves politics to the barnacles
and the economy to the sandhoppers.
She doesn't godbother me.

She neither asks me to make funeral plans
nor to consider my nearest and dearest when I am gone.

She lies here tonight, essential,  in all her beauty.
Under a lover's moon she casts her ancient spell.
What she has to tell
Is worth  the listening.

Saturday, 19 January 2013


From The Western Times 17th January 1879:

"Never within the memory of the oldest man have so many starlings been seen as were observed here last week.   The plantation and the cliffs, so far out as they were covered with scrub and thorn, offered a capital shelter for them,  but they were worried all day long by hundreds of boys.   Then,  extending from the Coastguard Station to the Black Battery,  especially on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, there were thousands of these birds stretching along in a line with high water mark hunting for anything in the shape of garbage they could find among the seaweed.  So cowed and weakened did they seem with the cold East wind that they could easily be run down as a great many of them were,  as were also grey and black birds.   But on Friday their fear got the better of their judgement, and instead of stopping within the shelter of our cliffs they flew across the river in large flocks,  in the direction of Starcross, where exposed to the full blast of the East wind,  they must have perished in large numbers."

Nowadays the great murmurations are to be seen, and heard, in the reedbeds above Topsham.   What did the writer mean by 'grey and black birds'?   Did he mean blackbirds?  How times have changed!  These days all the boys of  a January Exmouth are indoors gazing at television or other screens instead of being in pursuit of cowed and weakened birds.   Which activity is the most pernicious I wonder?   Did anybody eat starlings?  It wouldn't have been 'garbage', a nice word with a first meaning of the entrails of animals, that the starlings were finding in the seaweed on the tideline.  And did they fare that much worse in the reedbeds of Starcross to which they fled?   More questions than answers!  

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


In the summer of 1773,  the twenty-one year old Fanny Burney famously came to stay in  Teignmouth and  kept up her journal there.  To her young eyes one of the wonders of the place was the shocking dress of the women employed at pulling in the seine.  "Their dress,"  she writes,  " is barbarous,  they have stays half-laced and something by way of handkerchiefs about their necks;  they wear one coloured flannel or stuff petticoat; no shoes or stockings,  notwithstanding the hard pebbles and stones all along the beach;  and their coat is pinned up in the shape of a pair of (trousers) leaving them wholly naked to the knee."

She also recorded that there was a rowing match that summer between the women of Teignmouth and the women of Shaldon.

This lively sketch of  bare footed women working at the nets and the evidence that women were rowing the Teignmouth fishing boats  leads one to conclude that in the eighteenth century the women of East Devon were a particularly hardy and independent sisterhood prepared to tackle anything.   There is also to be considered William Maton's account of girls ploughing at Starcross some twenty years later.    These 'mannish' activities were probably the consequence of  many men being away for long months with the Fleet or with the Newfoundland fishery .  

Saturday, 5 January 2013


From Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, February 25th 1815.


"On Saturday last,  as some sailors were strolling in the path-fields leading from Budleigh Salterton to the Signal-house near that place,  they observed a pretty large fish,  called a hake,  washed in by the waves upon the beach below,  and though a fish of little value,  each felt an emulation to secure the prize.   The spot on which they stood was nearly a hundred feet in height above the level of the beach,  from which the cliff rises in an almost perpendicular direction.   Several of them instantly ran to a point from which steps are cut in the cliff,  but one of them,  resolving to reach the beach sooner than the rest,  and setting one hand on the edge of the cliff, turned himself round with his back to the sea and actually precipitated himself down the side of the cliff:;   about five and twenty feet from the bottom, providentially his foot struck against a small ledge of rock,  when his body turned round,  and rebounding with velocity,  he was thrown upon his face and hands, on the beach,  at a few feet distance (sic) from the base of the declivity.   Instead of being killed with the tremendous fall,  he instantly sprang up,  to the utter astonishment of his companions and ran off in pursuit of the fish."

The Gazette does not tell us if the bouncing sailor managed to catch his hake!