Seafood, Saints, Sinners and Pyke.

Enniscorthy july 2014 crabs, cake, Wells House 040

Not a bad haul from a morning walk. The crab was a little bonus. The razor clam and sea urchin were empty, just decoration. Catching razors is a whole different kettle of fish, to mangle a phrase. Sea urchins were esteemed in Classical times, as a delicacy. Some people eat them raw.  Not me. Maybe I got that wrong. Maybe they were steamed. I apologised to the crab, but I took him all the same. At last I have found the place where the mussels are not covered in barnacles. There is a lot of work in removing barnacles. The cockles I took, to complete the song and because they squirted water at me. It is a sin to refuse the good things that nature provides.  I left 47,000,000 for you at the next low tide. It’s a rough estimate, give or take a bucketful. Skerries, I emphasise, is a Blue Flag beach.

I heard a man singing heresy once, long ago. She wheeled her wheelbarrow—From Wearmouth to Jarrow—Crying cockles and mussels—Alive, alive o——– Well, you know what happens to heretics.  Not a bad rhyme, all the same, although it would have been a hell of a push for Molly Malone, leaving her in no fit state for her other, more extra-curricular activities, if gossip is to be believed.  The Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church, lived for much of his life in Jarrow. I’m sure he would have welcomed some fresh seafood to lighten the sparse monastic diet, whatever about Mollly’s other wares. But no. Molly was a Dubliner Isn’t there a statue of her in Dublin? If heresy were to take hold—and Heaven forfend—she would be trundling her little cart from Sandscale to Barrow, or anywhere else that happened to rhyme. The Venerable Bede himself, would denounce such heresy. He has been stuck in the mud at ‘Venerable’ for a thousand years. Isn’t it time he was upgraded to ‘Saint’?  His life’s course took him from Wearmouth as far as Jarrow where he completed his great work. Perhaps he has been venerated for too long. Give him the big prize.

Enniscorthy july 2014 crabs, cake, Wells House 039

I went another time, to catch crabs. I did reasonably well. I had intended to photograph all the crab ‘courses’ to complete a directory for those who come after me and be venerated for all time, like the good monk…..but it rained. I had started out in summer clothes but autumn took a little lash at my presumption. (Presumption is a sin)  I will attach my recipe as an appendix to the directory.

Nokia july 2014 097

When Doc in Cannery Row waded in the tidal pools of Monterey, he mused about life. Long before Cousteau, he made marine life fascinating. The ebb and flow of the tide never fail to throw up something interesting. A good friend goes to Joe May’s bar on the harbour, to conduct tidal studies. He is quite an expert. The storms have eroded the sand and marine clay undisturbed, possibly, since the Ice age. The pristine new pools are populated at low tide, by shrimp and little dabs. You can detect the fish only by the slight disturbance of the sand. Wonderful camouflage. Do you remember Professor Magnus Pyke on childrens’ television.?  He was an expert. He waved his arms extravagantly to make his point. He explained why beaches are perpetually replenished and how stones float ashore. I know this because we had a houseful of children and saw a lot of childrens’ television. I still hate Scooby Doo. The monster was always Mr. Dettweiler, the villainous campground manager, (insert name and occupation as desired) in a costume far too big for him. It was the same story every time. The kids insisted on watching it even though they despised it too. It postponed homework. It has taken forty years  to get that off my chest. I digress. Professor Magnus Pyke showed how stones are colonised by seaweed and how, with the rising tide, they are lifted and borne by the currents and waves, to a beach near you. I notice too that the mussel, a by-word and a bivalve for stability, the original stick-in-the mud, can levitate in the same way, with his cargo of fellow-travelling barnacles.

Nokia july 2014 102Nokia july 2014 100

Saint Patrick, lifted by missionary zeal, got around a lot more than Venerable Bede. He settled for a time on his island. The monastery did well until the Vikings arrived. The monks eventually moved ashore and probably enjoyed a better diet at Holmpatrick. (A little plug there for Fingal’s splendid market gardening industry.)

from field 019

We went on the Viking Splash with some children. The driver was very entertaining. As we came up from College Green into Nassau Street, he indicated the statue of Molly Malone, showing her wares to the public. He suggested discreetly, out of deference to young listeners, that she sold other commodities besides shellfish. ‘I can’t say what she sold but, that shop on your right might give yiz a clue.’  The shop sells high quality door furniture. The sign reads Knobs and Knockers. Work it out for yourself. Since Classical times, shellfish have been regarded as the food of Venus. Work that one out also.

An old Skerries man ventured as far as London on his holidays. He didn’t think much of it. He couldn’t understand the language at all, at all. ‘Frank,’ he said to the barman, on his return, ‘did you ever hear tell of venerable diseases?’  ‘Venerable what?’  ‘Diseases. Every time I went to wash me hands I saw these warnings about venerable diseases.’  Maybe Bede was wise to stay in his monastery.

On a lighter note, the mussels were delicious.

Advertisements

Slip-sliding away

Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 030Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 036

A century ago, this was a cottage. It had a slated roof, a garden and a picket fence. Children played on the strand in summertime. I have seen the pictures… happy holiday-makers returning to Skerries, to the place where their grandfather, Reverend Shegog, was the Minister in the Church of Ireland. You may have seen his photograph, a tall, bearded man in his cork lifejacket, supervising the launching of the lifeboat at the harbour. You may have heard the story of his son, a doctor, who died in the Great War.  A week after his death, a telegram arrived to his quarters, announcing the birth of a child, a child who never knew his father. Old stories, that hang in barely remembered shreds, like the weeds on the crumbling cliff. Perhaps my recollection of the stories, is crumbling too. They echo, like the distant calls of children on a strand, or the cries of the nesting fulmars. Even the fulmars must give some thought to the changes taking place around them.

Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 032

Fulmarus glacialis is the official name. The fulmars have lived here ever since the last Ice Age clothed the rock in boulder clay and fine gravel, to make an island. They live on fish, shellfish and small crustaceans, a gourmet diet. They can’t go hungry on Shennick Island.The Dutch name for fulmar is mallemuk meaning foolish gull. The Dutch are mistaken. The fulmars nest together in apparent amity. They stay together all winter, sheltering from the storms. Their food supply is immediately below them. They glide down to forage and soar back up to their ledges, masters of their element. They warn intruders off, with raucous cries.  Gah, Gah, Gah.

Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 013Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 048

The storms and high tides rend the island. They undermine the cliff. They spill the boulders and gravel onto the strand and sweep it all away. We watch as  the profile changes from year to year. We are concerned. We see the traces of human effort falling away. We experience regret for what is lost. Men stayed overnight in the cottage, to steal a march on the tide, when they went out to collect the woar. The winkle-pickers of today would be glad of four walls and a roof. They come from Latvia. They tell me that they don’t feel the cold. They work at night, with miners’ lamps, moving, like Will o’ the Wisps, on the dark foreshore.

lots of miscellaneous cashel etcetc 060Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 025Shenick, Dunamaise, Thurles, cake 026

You can read the story of the Ice Age in the layers, the black marl under the sand of the beach, the rough clay and boulders torn from the bedrock; the fine gravel, deposited grain by grain, in the beds of sub-glacial streams. The sea will take it all, the gravel and the jagged stones, sift and sort it and send it somewhere else, to make beaches of fine sand and drifts of gleaming pebbles. Nothing is lost; everything is changed. The granite pillar above the cottage proclaims ownership of the island, His Majesty’s War Office, ‘in Good King George’s glorious day’. The martello tower belonged to His Majesty. He prepared for war. The gulls and the pigeons own it now.  But for how long more?

For the present, the crabs and winkles welcome the shelter of the rocks and stones. The cockles burrow in the mud and sand. The mussels open and close with the tide. The mussel beds suffered greatly in the recent storms, but already the tiny spat is clothing the rocks, like a fine fur. Give them four years and they will make a tasty meal. People will come to dig for lugworms and probe for razor fish. The tide will ebb and flow, undermining and sifting. Gravity will bear down inexorably. The cottage wall will crack asunder. The tower will creep closer and closer to the edge. You and I won’t be around to see it fall.

The fulmars will move back a foot or two, with every slump and subsidence. They will soar on the updraughts and build their nests in the sun. They will dine together in some style. They will not send their children to war. Foolish gulls? I don’t think so.

Falcarragh waves Jan 2014 Watchers 042