Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bounty of the Sea

For centuries the peoples of the south west of England have benefited from the bounty of the seas. For many, this consisted of fish, but for others the incidence of nasty seas and sharp rocks was something of a boon.

The more innovative amongst them, finding that on occasion the elements were not cooperating, resorted to luring ships their way by using false lights to bemuse the mariner who was not keeping his eye on the ball or possibly the compass.

Wrecking was a way of life, as readers of du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn’ will recall.

The Vicar of Morwenstow, the eccentric Reverend Hawker, made a bit of a name for himself by collecting the bodies of drowned sailors and burying them in his churchyard just north of Bude, Cornwall. Some have been churlish enough to suggest that he was not entirely altruistic in his actions and tended not to hand over any valuables to the Keeper of Wrecks or H.M. Customs and Excise as he should have. He was a poet and, if he didn’t write the following prayer for mariners, I’m very surprised.

“Oh Lord, we pray thee - not that wrecks should happen but that if they do happen Thou wilt guide them to the coast of Cornwall for the benefit of the poor inhabitants.”

The natives of Devon seemed to have been doing a bit of praying recently since the arrival of a freighter on one of their beaches has brought out the wrecking instinct in full force. What used to be a local sport has now become rather more widespread, apparently, as vehicles from the northern cities such as Manchester, hitherto a town without much of a history of beachcombing, were spotted carting away the goods from the wreck.

In days of yore, most of the stuff was consumables but now BMW motorbikes are the flotsam du jour.

Thanks to the global reach of television, a family in Sweden had the distressing experience of watching looters seizing their personal effects which were being shipped on board. As someone who lost many of their personal effects when our Bahamian agent decided it was more cost effective to sell the goods and keep the cash rather than to ship them, I can testify that it is a traumatic experience. Insurance has no bearing in such cases – personal items are irreplaceable.

The feeding frenzy of the looters (for that’s what they were) has been captured on television and disseminated world-wide, giving a highly distasteful image of the British public and their attitude toward other people’s property.

In fact, there is nothing illegal in beachcombing. But what is illegal is failing to report any such discovery to the Receiver of Wrecks or similar authority with 28 days. Those that were gleefully departing the beach, watched by apparently complacent police officers, may well find themselves getting a knock on their door in the near future.

“Good morning, sir. That’s a nice shiny BMW bike you’ve got there! Low mileage, I see. Used by one little old lady to go shopping, I presume? Perhaps you’d like to explain where you got it? Care to see yourself carting it off the beach. sir? We’ve got the video.”

And a jolly good job, too. The Fagins of Britain should be ashamed of themselves. But I doubt that they are. Old habits die hard.


Anonymous Leif said...

Again, a great story! Many thanks. And, for your information, the poor Swede you are referring to was in fact my former gardener. He's from Stockholm and was moving with his family to South Africa for a better life with new and unknown adventures. Perhaps, standing on the Devon shores hunting looters was not what they had in mind.

5:55 pm  

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