Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oyster Oyster

It is not often you get to see a farmer with his oysters. Man and shellfish in perfect harmony. But such is the life of one Northumberland farmer these days. We drove out over grassy pastures to an isolated stretch of coast opposite Holy Island, the seat of British christianity. It is a bleak and beautiful shore where the oysters grow; a strangely disorienting No Man's Land between the North Sea and the sandy beach. The mainland beyond; the sea, grey blue and flat in the mid distance and grassy dunes behind you. You have no choice but to crunch through thousands of mussel shells to reach their oyster brothers. For a moment you balance above the fragile barnacled blues, but you cannot rest there for ever; you have to accept your lot, shift your weight and press down, walking on into yet more collateral damage. Best not to look back when you walk on what was the seabed - the post traumatic stress could kill you. You have to time it perfectly in order to plunder land which belongs to the sea and is claimed back again so quickly. When the tide slides out, it reveals trestle tables crouched low and iron in the sand. Cross-hatched bags made of strong plastic lie hooked to the tables so that their contents are not snatched back by grasping waves. There is a spot on the river tour of the Thames where a lip-licking guide will show you where offending unfortunates were chained to rusty iron rings to drown when the tide ran in to the capital. Somehow the oystered bags reminded me of that. Presumably they are happier about their situation than yesteryear's river victims.

These are Pacific oysters rather than natives. What crime do you have to be guilty of in a previous life to come back as a Pacific oyster living in the North Sea with no sex life to speak of - apparently it is too cold for them to reproduce. When my farmer friend told me his oysters were hermaphrodites, I was not quite sure what to say. It seemed like too much information too soon. Particularly when they were right there in front of us listening. It is a far cry from a seafood platter at London's Rules restaurant and a strangely timeless way to harvest food. It is believed that monks who lived on Lindisfarne harvested oysters as long ago as the fourteenth century. This most recent foray into oyster farming was begun in 1989 by my friend's father.

Seaweed festoons the oyster bags which are unclipped and then spilled out into a box to be sorted and sized. Tiny green crabs dash for cover between the gnarled and calcified shells, all covered in sandy mud, smelling of the sea - of nothingness and salt. Oysters as small as a thumbnail are "seeded" in the bags and grow for three or four years before they are big enough to be promoted to crushed ice and certain death. If they are too small for gastric tastes, they are returned to their trestle to await another Judgment Day.

When the waters begin to lap around my feet, I looked up from my work and calculated the distance across the pulling sands and crisp shells to the car. I asked myself whether I would make it and wondered what would happen if I did not. As I came back, bouncing in the open back of the 4X4 with the other oyster harvesters, we passed the patch of beach where naturists frolic. (I cannot believe there are that many naturists in Northumberland. They must be a hardy lot - may be I should try that next as part of my quest to feel more at home here? Let me think about it. You know. Maybe not. I might meet someone.) My oyster farmer happened upon a couple of naturists as he was driving out to his oyster beds. He knew they had to be local; the man covered his paraphenalia and the woman her face.


Anonymous said...

No, maybe give the nudity thing a miss, for the moment, as it might give you more publicity than you can handle at the moment, and you wouldn't want that now would you..

Whispering Walls said...

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Anonymous said...

I like oysters myself - nice and fresh with a good strong taste of the sea!

rilly super said...

wifey darling, ah, oysters, I could do with a few of those for my husband (you know what I'm saying now sis!).Do you think you could hide a few down your boots for your old friend Rilly next time you're down there. About a hundredweight should do it to get the old man interested again.

all the best
love Rilly xx

bex said...

goodness me somebody you know is awfully bitter about this blog aren't they! perhaps a little jealous of your success, I am completely hooked now, how is your son by the way?

Anonymous said...

I like the idea, Wifey! Not of being a WMD to mussels. I mean trying to dampen down the bullying episode by first doing breasts, then doing naturism. It's a good strategy. It seems to have worked too ...

You've struck a real chord with many people. I am dismayed by the hostility and downright nastiness of a small minority of contributors. Please don't let them stop you.

Unknown said...

What a lovely description,you are such a good writer but I do worry for your children-do you think they will wish to be reminded of their childish exploits if this blog is still around in 10 years time,you know what teenagers can be like!
I hope the bullying soon gets sorted by Head Teacher/governors/LEA,it's surely too soon to think of changing schools and anyway there are also bullies at private schools.

James Higham said...

The oysters and the nudity were one thing but the mention of Lindisfarne had me nostalgic. That, the mead and the tidal treachery.

Anonymous said...

(If I may) for the attention of Silly Mummy:

I've read your blog (from your comments here). I would like to comment on it but the settings you have put in place don't allow that (only blog people can).

I can understand why you have put settings in place but you may get some responses if you change them?

Anyway - my advice would be:

Don't imitate! Have faith in your yourself. No-one wants to read the same old stuff re-hashed a thousand times.

Write what YOU want to. NOT what you think people want to read!

I have a blog myself - it's not aimed at any sort of audience - it's not aimed at anyone at all.

That's why I'm not signing this off with my blog name.

Apologies to WIFN for hi-jacking her space.

Anonymous said...

fellow blogger - I tend to agree with your point, people like 'silly mummy' who refuse to allow 'anonymous' comments are missing a whole raft of people who are libertarian 'id card/nhs database/cctv hating refuseniks'...

Mind you silly mummy ain't quite as good as wifey, and not quite as funny as 'rilly super', so I am not sure it is a great loss.

Anonymous said...

Talking of oysters, check out this great book 'The Pearls of Bizdom: From Grit to Great'...

Great for seeing the lighter side of life in the midst of your current travails. How is the building work coming along ? I hope your hubby is keeping an eye on things and a bit of a 'hand on the tiller' so to speak.

It will be great when it's done - far better than being in a 'new house' which is rather soul-less and done to someone else's design.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 11.51

I understand why people put these settings in place but it does then restrict comment to people who are comfortable about drawing attention their own blogs. (Not all of us are).

You yourself are anonymous and are able to post here.

Alright - so "Silly Mummy" might not be up there with WITN or Rilly Super (who is bloody funny) but she might fare better if she wrote stuff that wasn't trying to reach the saturated "chick-lit" readership out there.

That's all I was trying to say.