Sunday, 9 August 2015

All the way from Holland (and Flanders)

For several years now, I have been recording Dutch rubbish (and some from Flanders, Dutch-speaking Belgium) washed up on Suffolk's beaches. As a British and Dutch dual national and Dutch speaker living in Suffolk. I am particularly interested in the writing on this flotsam and jetsom from over the North Sea, which often gives clues to where exactly this washed up rubbish has come from.

"Car, boat, household, technical" Kara brand spray paint, Dingle Beach January 2015

Complementary cigarette lighter from Adinkerke, a seaside village on the Flemish (Belgian) border with France. Adinkerk is where Brits go to buy Belgian tobacco. Tobacco duty in Belgium is lower, and the village is full of giant tobacconists. I've checked, the lighter floats! I once found two of these on Dingle Beach on the same day.

Crate for Holland Fish Auction, Ijmuiden. Ijmuiden is one of the closest Dutch harbours to the East of England, it's where most of the yachts that sail to Suffolk depart from. Found on Covehithe Beach, December 2014

"Koffiemelk" (coffee creamer), gold band "extra creamy". This is the popular Friesche Vlag (Fries Flag) brand, for Friesland in the North of the Netherlands. Found on Covehithe Beach, December 2014. Most Dutch people drink this stuff, rather than milk, in their coffee.

Jumbo brand "halfvolle melk" (semi-skimmed milk) from Veghel, on the coast of North Holland Province, roughly opposite Suffolk. Jumbo is a local discount North Holland supermarket chain.

Bleached "lippenbalsam" (lip balm) stick, Dutch brand, Dunwich Beach, summer 2014

"Nutritional content" information on a Belgian fizzy orange drink bottle, in both Dutch and French. Between Walberswick and Dingle Beach, May 2014.

Dutch-language safety cap, stamped with OPEN/DICHT (open/close) and "Tijdens duwen indrukken" (press in while turning). Between Dunwich and Sizewell, summer 2013.

Most of the items I've found that have come all the way from Holland are milk cartons - those with still legible sell-by dates on them are at least six months old, so they've taken a while to make the voyage of around 90-120 nautical miles over the North Sea to Suffolk's beaches. A lot of these cartons of "halfvolle melk" (semi-skimmed milk) are from local dairies in Noord Holland (North Holland) - the province of the Netherlands that you'd come to if you sailed in a straight line from the Suffolk coast. Some cartons - like the Melken brand semi-skimmed vanilla yoghurt carton below - are from dairies in Zuid Holland, a little bit further down the coast.

Melkan vanilla yoghurt from Beesd in the province of South Holland proudly declares that it's made from milk from cows that have been eating grass in a field for at least six hours a day for the past 120 days.

Milk cartons aren't the sort of thing you'd take to the beach with you and you'd be unlikely to take milk cartons with you on a sailing boat unless you were on a long voyage all the way to England. Dutch people on short sailing trips would be more likely to take "koffiemelk" (coffee creamer, see above) that they drink with coffee (they don't drink milk in their tea). Coffee milk keeps better.

A sailing trip to bring over a boat to Suffolk would take around 22 hours on a summer night, according to the two sailors I met at Walberswick Harbour last summer, who took that long to sail their brother-in-law's boat from Ijmuiden.

Directions to the Netherlands' major cities are given on the Euroscope, the monument marking the mainland UK's easternmost point at Ness Point, Lowestoft. There's also a sign pointing out to sea and to the nearest Dutch and Belgian ports outside the Seaman's Reading Room at Southwold (below).

Some items originating in the Netherlands that end up washed up on Suffolk beaches could have been lost overboard on sailing boats. There's a fair amount of tubes of lubricant for boats and their engines, and I've found one safety top of some kind of container with a Dutch-language version of the "press inwards while twisting off" screw-top. Also notable are the crates stamped with "property of Holland Fish Auction, Ijmuiden" and "Property of Fish Store Holland Northern" (Eigendom Vis Afslag Hollands Noorden). I looked up this particular fish cold storage facility online and it's in the relatively small fishing port of Den Oever, which is right down the coast from Den Helder, a big Navy port. Were a crate to fall off the side of the docks at Den Helder or Den Oever and be swept out to see, coastal Suffolk is where it would end up.

This crate from the Den Oever fish cold storage facility, used by the local fishing fleet to store their catch when it's landed, was at the "Plastic Palace" between Dunwich Heath and Sizewell Beach in the summer of 2013.

The Dutch-language lettering on this tube of lubricant reads, "Universal Water-resistant Spreadable Grease." It presumably fell off, or was discarded from, a boat. Found between Dunwich and Sizewell, 2013.

And there's also packaging from Belgium washed up on Suffolk's coast - from Flanders (Vlanderen) the autonomous Dutch-speaking region of Belgium that occupies the coast. Most Belgian packaging (and some Dutch packaging, destined for the "Benelux" market) is in Dutch and French. Notable among the Belgian rubbish ending up on our shores are the cigarette lighters from Adinkerke, where Brits go after they've filled the van at Calais with alcohol. Adinkerke's right on the French-Belgian border and cheap tobacco, with a lower level of duty, is what they're after. Whether Adinkerke lighters have washed up on Suffolk Coastal all the way from the Flemish coast, of whether they were dropped over the side of a Channel ferry on its way into a ferry port on the South coast is unclear. (I'm in contact with an oceanographer who can talk me through the sea currents between the Low Countries and Suffolk.)

Sty brand mineral water from Belgium, with bilingual Dutch and French label. Found between Walberswick and Dingle Beach, 2014

How this milk carton from the landlocked Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, inland from Belgium, came to be washed up on Southwold Beach in June 2014 is a bit of a mystery! Luxembourg does have a river fleet that cruises the major Belgian waterways carrying freight all the way to the sea at the Belgian port of Antwerp, so it may have reached Southwold through that route.

And here's an oil cap all the way from Germany, found between Dunwich and Sizewell in 2013. It would have had to drift quite a long way south to arrive in Suffolk

Et viola! Creme fraiche apparently all the way from France, in an exclusively French-language carton. This one was found in Covehithe in early 2014. The majority of foreign finds on Suffolk's beaches, though are Dutch. Beachcombing one day in early 2015 between Dingle and Walberswick, about half the items I found whose origin was identifiable were from the Netherlands.

This list of ingredients on a carobonated fizzy orange bottle found in Dingle (above) in early 2014 is in French and Dutch, but four-figure postcode starting with a 9 identifies it as coming from Brakel in Gelderland (southeast Netherlands). Amsterdam postcodes would start with "10", for example.

Typically Dutch: Fresian cows grazing the fens and a windmill feature on this carton of Smeek cheese spread. The Dutch do love their dairy products! This one was on display at the "Plastic Palace" just south of Dunwich Heath in 2013.

There's plenty more where that came from! And plenty more photos. I haven't come across any Dutch rubbish on Suffolk beaches for many months, though. Most of my finds have been in remote stretches of the coast between beaches where people go, or in largely deserted beaches like Covehithe, and off-season, when there are long intervals between beach-cleans. I suspect that many of my finds were left over from various tidal surges that flooded the Suffolk coast, or "overtopping," and I have a theory that Dutch residents along the coast had dutifully put their cartons in the correct recycling bins one winter's night, only for these to be swept out to sea by a sudden tidal surge.

I've also heard the theory that there were "too many bottletops" on East Anglia's coast, that some of the plastic bottlecaps found there in great abundance couldn't have got there by people leaving them on East Anglian beaches alone, some must have come from the North Sea. The same source speculated on whether there's a great graveyard of East Anglian plastic bottlecaps somewhere on the coast of Holland or Germany.

Stichting De Noordzee (The North Sea Foundation), the national charity that help organise beach-cleans up the Dutch coast and on the beaches of "the islands" to the North, has a report from the 2014 and 2013 "National Beach-clean Tours" on its website.

Last year, the most frequently found bits of rubbish were fishing line and netting, balloons with string attached, and little bits of plastic. Based on the 2013 Beach-Clean Tour, they estimated there were around 514,000 bits of fishing line lying around on the Dutch coast.

There was also "a great increase in the quantity of tops of plastic bottles observed." Thousands of plastic tops were gathered during the National Beach-clean Tour, and these were made into a 2.5-metre sculpture named "Capman."

On tourist beaches, there was a lot of packaging for drinks and sweets, cigarette ends and plastic bags. On "non-tourist" beaches, "maritime" items were found: wooden pallets, jerrycans, cleaning fluid and paraffin (containers?) accounted for the biggest share of the rubbish.

I've parked this draft article here as I'm making some pitches - one for a project in Suffolk - possibly a small travelling exhibition or series of talks or activities in schools, or both. I also hope to approach East Anglian print media, as well as print media in the Netherlands, where "the environment" is always a very hot topic.

Watch this space!

Words and images: Copyright Matt Salusbury

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Body of a Mighty giant dig'd up at Brockford Bridge neer Ipswich

British Library, front cover image for the purposes of a critique or review, Copyright Act 1988. Pamphlet out of copyright

I found this pamphlet, from the Thomason Collection, in the British Library, thanks to Richard Muirhead for his librarianship skills in pointing me in that direction.

It describes, as the title suggests, "The Body of a Mighty giant dig'd up at Brockford Bridge neer Ipswich in the county of Suffolk" and is written in the form of letter from "I.G." to his brother in London, updating him on "the town of his nativity". It's dated 1651, when solidly Parliamentarian Suffolk was under the regime of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and his rather overstretched Major Generals. The Withchfinder General - Matthew Hopkins and Company - had already had their excesses in East Anglia put a stop to by then.

The pamphlet describes a skeleton found by workmen digging in the "gravelly way" at Brockford Bridge. It's unclear whether this is an already existing road made from gravel or a feature from which people dug gravel - a less than abundant commodity in relatively stone-free East Anglia. (The number of "Brick Kiln Farms" in Suffolk is notable.)

The more I read the description in the pamphlet, the more I am convinced that the "mighty Giant" was the partial skeleton of a fossil mammoth or elephant, minus its tusks.

The body had a skull that was "half a bushel" in size - half a bushel is about four gallons (just over 18 litres). The leg bone (presumably a thigh) was "about the width of a middling woman's waist" and when the skeleton was laid out it was ten feet (3.04 metres) long. Eleven "huge teeth" were in the skull, or at least among the skeleton. Elephants usually have 26 of these, including six absolutely huge molars. Especially in juveniles, they'll have teeth at the back still under the gum waiting to grow through, that would be visible in a skeleton.

Presumably this would be when laid out as if reconstructing a human-like biped. I strongly suspect it was a fossilised prehistoric elephant or mammoth.

Ipswich Museum has some impressive mammoth bits, and Southwold Museum has a whole chest of drawers of elephant bits on display (sorry, no photography allowed, so no photo!) West Stow Museum's tiny palaeontology display has a fragment of a mammoth tusk and a bit of an elephant's shoulder. Elephant and mammoth remains are plentiful in the county. (Elephas antiquus, slightly bigger than an Asian elephant and similar in build, is the most likely candidate.) There's even a short geological period known as the Ipswichian Interglacial from deposits from round there laid down during an interval between Ice Ages. Pakefield Man - known from worked flints found in Pakefield, just South of Lowestoft - was around the area 700,000 years ago.

I found a reference to "stupendous ELEPHANT" in a menagerie of "foreign animals" visiting Ipswich in 1800, so it's unlikely anyone would have actually seen an elephant, or even recognised its skeleton, in 1651. The skull, with the big cranium, and if it had its tusks detached, looks like a giant human's, and while living elephants' feet are pillars of flesh designed to support several tonnes, the actual bones end in long, thin toes. The forearms could have been mistaken for a human arm ending in fingers, and the shoulder blades and ribs look a bit like a human's.

Most of a scale model of a mammoth skeleton from my collection - it's a snap-together kit so you can configure it either as a quadruped (as you're supposed to) or "laid out" as if it were a biped, as I've done here. The description in the pamphlet suggests the "shin bones" are partly damaged or missing, so I've partly left them out. It also says the teeth in the upper jaw were missing, so the tusks presumably would be too. (The tusks are incisor teeth from the upper jaw.) Minus its tusks, doesn't it look a bit like a human skeleton? Mammoths have more "swept-back", pointy heads, so an elephant skull would look slightly more human-like.

The pamphlet says the locals "broke up" the skeleton, everyone wanted a piece if it, it seems. While snapping up bones is hard, cracking off bits of a fossil is easier.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Map of lynx sightings in Suffolk

This is a first draft of my map of possible lynxes, servals, caracals and "tufted" cats reported in Suffolk from the 1980s to the present day. I've included the "Debenham Lion", described as like a small lion with short ears with tufts on them, and a "mottled cat" that matches the colouration of a lynx. Several big cats described by observers as a "puma or lynx" (or "cougar or lynx") are included, as is the "Shingle Street lynx", who is a lynx only by association, after the East Anglian Daily Times included in their report a photo of a lynx as an example of an animal "similar to the big cat seen in Suffolk."

I've also included the Beccles Lynx, actually shot in Great Withcingham, Norfolk, and found in a freezer near Beccles during a Norfolk Police/Defra investigation, now presumed to be stuffed an on display in a stately home "in the Beccles area."

It'll be in Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk, out soon.

Monday, 25 May 2015

West Suffolk big cat field expedition

I went to see some big cat sighting locations in West Suffolk (Newmarket, Red Lodge, Mildenhall Woods, West Stow and Culford) for myself on Saturday, and looked for possible big cat field signs. The people of West Suffolk are much more sceptical about big cats than those in East Suffolk, it seems, although the explanations they offered for big cat sightings were beginning to sound a bit like "ignited marsh gas and the planet Venus" from Men in Black. You'll have to buy a copy of Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk when it comes for more detail!

Scattered feathers in the King's Forest, "inconclusive", as Natural England would say.

Old West Suffolk County Council initials on Red Lodge bridge, right on the Cambridgeshire border. (Suffolk was once two counties, West Suffolk, with its country town at Bury, and East Suffolk.)

Evil freshwater mermaid on a tattooist's sign at Mildenhall, just up the River Lark from where freshwater mermaids were said to live at the Mermaid Pits at Fornham All Saints. They were clearly tales made up to stop children playing in rivers and ponds.

"Welcome to Suffolk" sign at Newmarket, where Suffolk is at one point a corridor a couple of hundred yards wide, with Cambridgeshire on both sides. The sun has leached out the sunburst symbol over the water at the bottom of the logo.

Looking for field signs of big cats in woodland in Red Lodge. There are a couple of bags of possible big cat poo in my freezer - they had a lot of hair in them, but possibly not enough (deer) hair for it to be a big cat's. Analysis follows.

I wish I had more time to linger in Mildenhall Woods, where a couple saw a big cat in September 2014. If I were a big cat, it's the sort of place I'd hang out.

The ghost of one of horseracing history's most famous jockeys, Fred Archer, riding on his favourite horse, Scotch Pearl, has been seen galloping on the exercise tracks in Hamilton Lane, Newmarket, not far from this equestrian bin in the High Street. Archer, unusually tall for a jockey, shot himself after the death of his wife and probably as a result of his depressing weight loss diet.

Some of the 3,000 thoroughbred racehorses exercised every day at Newmarket, some are worth £1 million. They seem to panic easily - a paper bag caught in the wind will set them off, according to a local Town Councillor and Justice of the Peace, the first farrier to serve as a magistrate since the Farrier's Company records went up in smoke in the Great Fire of London. He also said some jockeys are 7kg below their healthy bodyweight, so it's "No wonder some of them go off the rails."

The River Lark is a trickle at the bottom of a ditch where it passes within 300 metres of the West Stow Anglo Saxon Village museum. It was down by the river where a visitor reported seeing a "puma" two years ago. The staff member I talked to thought it was a misidentified muntjac.

Russet Drive, Red Lodge, scene of a 2009 big cat encounter.

Rather big cat-friendly "derelict land" at the back of Russet Drive, Red Lodge, where Jackie Ellerton saw a "huge and spotty... feline creature” twice the size of an ordinary cat early one morning in 2009.

Fields immediately outside Newmarket as you leave on the Newmarket-Dullingham train. Someone saw a black big cat running alongside the train as if left Newmarket in January this year. "Are you yanking my chain?" asked the sceptical train conductor when I mentioned this. He suggested a misidentified black racehorse, "there are plenty of them."

A panoramic view of Suffolk at its narrowest point, on the Eastern edge of Newmarket along the Bury Road (A11), showing Cambridgeshire to the north (on the left) and to the south (on the right).

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk is coming!

Here at last is the front cover image for Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk, out later this year from CFZ Publishing. See here for updates.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

English in difficult circumstances - British Council English in Iraq meeting report

I recently met Iraq ministry of education officials at British Council "English in Iraq" meeting in London. There were plenty of euphemisms to describe the state of English language teaching in Iraq, and everyone was putting a brave face on a very difficult - and delicate - set of circumstances. A report co-authored by Claudia Civinini and myself for trade magazine EL Gazette is here.

Some of the euphemisms to describe the delicate situation in Iraq that didn't make it into the report (spece did not permit) included:

The internet in most Iraqi classrooms was said to be "partially available."

Daphne Laing University of Wolverhampton complained that one of the biggest problems was that "our people are risk averse." The University of Wolverhampton has had to pull out "due to current issues."

On the positive side, Basra - Iraq's second city, in the majority Shia South of the country – is now officially as safe as the Kurdistan Regional Government area in the North. Amir Razman, British Council director Iraq, said the Foreign Office advice has changed, the KRG is now "orange... same as Basra." Orange means "advise against all but essential travel" slightly better than red, which is "advise against all travel". Basra's sudden relative safety is a reflection of the KRG being downgraded to less safe, on account of the Islamic State being just down the road.(The KRG enjoyed a more safe rating from the FCO for many years, including when I visited in 2004.)

Two UK publishers reported extensive problems with piracy of their English language textbooks (one shown above) in both Iraq - "CSI" (Central and Southern Iraq, the part of Iraq that's not in the Kurdistan Regional Government) - and within the Kurdistan Regional Government education system, which is completely autonomous from Baghdad. More will follow on this in EL Gazette later, but at the moment there is a reluctance to talk about this issue on the record.

The meeting was in the spectacularly grand surrounding of 10 Carlton House Terrace, about the poshest address you can get in London SW1 (it used to call itself The British Academy). Watching over the meeting was a magnificent portrait (above)by the artist Head depicting Admiral Lord Nelson receiving the French colours after defeating the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. We noted that the red, white and blue of the French colours held by (presumably) a French cabin boy appear to have been leached out by the cruel sun of the Eastern Mediterranean.

See also: New rector of Kurdistan university was victor of Battle of Basra (he's since left)

Radical reforms empower Kurdistan's universities (interview with Kurdistan higher education minister)

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

North Suffolk big cat expedition

Woodwose on the porch at Yaxley church

I've just returned from a brief expedition to North Suffolk, staying with one multiple big cat witness near Eye and getting a lift back to Dunwich from another one. I was shown round the location of a sighting of an "Alsatian-sized" black big cat of "muscular build" with a "long, thin tail" (on condition of no photographs) and had a quick look at Lowgate Street, Eye, the location of a "big black cat" sighting in 2008.

I was also able to photograph three "woodwoses churches". The first was Yaxley, where there's a magnificent woodwose on the porch with particularly fine detail on the body hair. He's being attacked by two small lions, one broken. (Photo above.)

The second was Mendlesham, where two large and terrifying woodwoses with clubs are on the roof of the porch (it makes them hard to photograph). By the sound of it. Mendelsham had a service on when we arrived, it being a Sunday, as did Wickham Skeith.

One of the fierce woodwoses on the roof of the porch at Mendlesham

The Wickham Skeith woodwoses - heavily damaged - are on the font, so I knew I'd have to interrupt the service to photograph them. Fortunately, I also knew that the font is usually the first thing you see when you come through the door into the church, so I very carefully opened the door and tiptoed in. There was the font, right in front of me, with the nearest woodwose hacked off with a chisel (the iconoclasts had paid Wickham Skeith a visit), and the tiny congregation - half a dozen of them and the vicar, without any music - were down the other end of the church, so I was able to get a couple of quick photos in without them noticing me. My apologies to the congregation of St Andrew's Wickham Skeith for crashing their service.

Badly vandalised woodwoses on the font at Wickham Skeith. I had to crash their church service to photograph it.

Forester Paul Berry kindly drove me back to my base in Dunwich, and told me more detail about the Debenham lion of the early 1980s, he thinks it was 1982 when he and his wife saw it.

Paul had also brought along some of his collection of objects that he'd found across Suffolk over the years - some very rare Roman broaches, and some "fairly loaves" - fossilised sea urchins, that were in some cases attached to horses' tackle to ward of the terrifying Good Folk - the fairies, who had a particularly fearsome reputation for causing sickness in horses.

Some "fairy loaves" (fossil sea urchins) among his collection of fossils found across Suffolk

And there were some skulls - a intact skull with antlers of a male fallow deer left behind after a cull on the Shotley Peninsula, a coypu skull found in a hedge near Little Glemham about 10 years ago - impossible to tell whether it was alive after the December 1989 last known report of a living coypu in England. (Natural England in a FIOA request revealed they keep getting reports of coypu, but when they follow up they find they're misidentified - often otters and sometimes even water voles.)

There was also a skull Paul thought was from a badger - with a part of the snout missing - but Paul wasn't sure, as he thought it was too big for a badger.

Is this from a badger?

And finally, there was the skull shown below - badly damaged and missing a lot. Paul found it in the river near Framlingham ten years ago, but it was after Framlingham Mere - the lake next to the castle - had been dredged, so it's possible they'd been lying in peaty silt that preserved them for a few hundred years before ending up in the river. Paul thinks it's a pig, because of its flat head. Any ideas?

What is it? A pig?

This socket where the skull joins the vertebra is one of the few recognisable bits

What's left of the underside of the skull

A first draft of the big cats section of Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk will be ready soon. It'll be published sometime this summer by CFZ Publications. Meanwhile, you can follow it on Twitter here.