Friday, 20 July 2007

Eating humble pie, eels and Jean Rhys




I have of course left you in suspenders re the purpose of the meadow hole and it would appear I should eat humble pie. The main purpose is (roll of drums, should I announce the purposes in reverse order to heighten tension like on Strictly Come Dancing or that Joseph show) no the purpose is Anguila anguila.
I eventually talked to a very nice sane doctor who is a ‘Fisheries, Recreation and Biodiversity Technical Specialist at The Environmental Agency. The reason for the restoration of the ancient Chub stream that used to traditionally bi-sect the meadow is to save the eel from extinction. The European eel has suffered almost a 99% drop in population over the past few years, basically it is hovering or rather swimming on the brink of extinction. The gouge in the meadow is to allow them to avoid the local lock, it is part of an Eel Recovery Plan, a bypass for eel traffic if you like. Apart from the effects of pollution that have effected them, eels don’t do locks and weirs and flood defences, they give up and die, they are not the feisty show-off salmon types who jump up stream to spawn. Indeed I discovered that our common river eel spawns far far away in the Sargasso sea near the warmth of the Caribbean. The eel larvae piggy back on currents and drift haphazardly towards Europe in a journey that can take up to three years. Throughout this journey they are changing into glass eels (what a gift of an image that is). Then they become elvers and eventually eels in freshwater. After all that they come up against locks and weirs and die.
The Isle of Ely was of course originally The Isle of Eels and eel fishing and wild fowling was the sole livelihood of virtually all Fen men but now we have carrots , celery and Science parks which is inevitable progress but the eel didn’t stay to watch.
I now know more about Anguila anguila than I thought possible but strangely since my lecture on the spawning grounds of the eel I keep thinking of Jean Rhys’ book Wide Sargasso Sea; perhaps it is just the name that makes me join up two very disparate dots but then I have used some of my Wallace Steven’s thinking time to mull this over. I think it is something as clich├ęd as the image of swimming against the tide.
Jean Rhys famously spent nearly twenty-seven years in seclusion, writing nothing for publication after her last book in 1939 was a terrible failure and then in 1966 out she comes with Wide Sargasso Sea, which was hailed as a literary masterpiece and she was hailed by some as one of the finest literary writers of the twentieth century. Just goes to show that either you shouldn’t give up on the writing or that just sometimes the times and the writing are in perfect step. I suppose you can’t work to have your finger on the pulse or on appealing to the Zeitgeist ( those that do nearly always come a cropper or appear artificial and phony) you just keep writing and in the end hope quality will out. Of course there may be scores of writers and poets of huge talent that are not recognised out there. Writers and poets who believe their time has not yet come or they are ahead of the times of even behind them but there are probably far fewer than our own egos will allow us to believe.


PS The nice environmental scientist pointed out that the newly dug eel channel would fill from below rather than directly from the river. Why, because the water table has been significantly altered by the building of houses on the local flood plain. So only a small portion of humble pie over here please.

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