Sunday, 17 July 2011


In 1930 the Exmouth Swimming Club were still using the Dock as a place to teach people to swim.

Pressure was growing for the town to have a swimming bath but many voices were raised against it. The reluctance to spend money on a pool was partly due to the perception that there was something perverse about a town that boasted two miles of golden beach needing anywhere other to swim than in the sea. But,as teachers of swimming were keen to point out, the beach is seldom a good place to teach or to learn. The sea with its wayward ways and wild waves invited none but the boldest to learn to swim there and the remarkable number of local people who drowned in the Bay and the Estuary was of concern to many.

The Dock as a swimming pool was also less than satisfactory. The Exmouth Journal of March 16th 1930 has the following:

"The amount of rubbish thoughtlessly thrown into the Club's corner of the Dock, though it has caused damage to the feet of swimmers, is really a minor nuisance. The chief trouble is that a sheet of enclosed water used by shipping must at all times be more or less polluted."

It seems amazing that a facility which nowadays we all take for granted was so slow coming to this seaside town.

Sunday, 10 July 2011


How all these dead things come and go
across this Estuary, its shining length and breadth!
Dead creatures, the wholes or parts of them,
that come in with the flood, that go out with the ebb
without asking anyone's leave.

(No last trump for them, then?
No! No more than for you or me, kiddo!)

Spineless, jellied things and twisted skeletal things,
flesh and bone and shell and feather,
remains of bird, beast, fish of the sea,
hanging about, but not for ever.

Where they float they are tugged by crabs and fishes,
where stranded, rent and plundered,
pecked by hungry rook and crow,
nibbled by the progeny of those happy rats
who ate the leather flaps
of Brunel's Atmospheric Railway,
sniffed by night by that dogfox we know
and devoured from within by tiny, salty bugs:

dead things crawling with life!

And even that proud and noble buzzard
resting on her splayed wings,
black on the wind, above Sowden's cliff,
does not distain these dead things.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


I like the entry on 'venery' in Fowler's Modern English Usage: "The existence of homonyms, one synonomous with hunting, the other with sexual indulgence, make it necessary to provide against ambiguity in using either." Well, here, let us be clear, we mean the former and not the latter. The 'venery game' is the game of finding the right collective for beasts, primarily those which lend themselves to being hunted. If T H White is to be believed, which mostly he isn't, learning the correct venery terms constituted about fifty per cent of a mediaeval education.

Anyway, last Friday there were nineteen swans swimming together on the western side of the Estuary near the stone steps upriver from Starcross. This is the time of year when swans group and there have been much larger groupings in past years. Nevertheless nineteen is a goodly number. They were in grand procession which is how they mostly appear to be.

Swans have always been a challenge to players of the venery game. In the air it is, of course, a 'skein' of swans but there is no consensus when it comes to swans on the water. There are many suggestions on the internet as elsewhere but I am happiest with my own contribution to the game, "a pomp of swans".
'Pomp' is a fine word. Its roots would have it mean first and foremost a grand procession. What could be closer to the vision in which I was delighting upriver of Starcross last Friday? "A pomp of swans" : that's what it was and don't forget that it was I who coined this particular collective! Or are we being pompous again?

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Yesterday, Friday, I went off with 'Poppy' on the ebb tide at half past nine in the morning and came home with the flow of the tide at half past seven. It was a long day of glorious sunshine with light winds, first from the north and then from the south. For me it was a wonderfully aimless day of just messing about in the boat, than which, as every schoolboy knows, 'there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing.'

At lunchtime, however, I discovered that I had failed to pack the flask of coffee which I had carefully prepared so I went to see what the new 'River Exe Café' had to offer by way of libation. I had been keeping an eye on this amazing building rising from the Exe without knowing what it was about. It floats just off Starcross like the Ark, as though some latter day Noah was taking global warming very seriously.

The construction is somehow very pleasing. Everything is of timber. A deck about 80' by 60' has been laid on two canal barges and a sizeable hut has been built on it. A strip of landing stage is attached. It is such a fantastic project, so brilliantly conceived and executed that it deserves every success.

I was made fast alongside by a helpful hand and went aboard beneath a flutter of brave bunting. It was lucky for me that only last weekend the Café had received its licence to serve alcohol and I was able to enjoy a pint of cold Yellowhammer beer, brewed by O'Hanlon's in Whimple, with my lunch. It will be a great place for a party. I shall be going there again and taking friends and so, I hope, will many another.