I have been consumed with frustration in recent days. The principal cause of this has been industrial action by an assortment of trolls who think that holding strikes for pay in a recession, thus holding commuters to ransom, is a good way to improve public relations. I have been tweeting about this with some vigour, but nothing I seem to do in this regard alleviates a pain conditioned by the fact that any and all rage I feel is impotent. We commuters are so powerless…
Luckily I have several emollients at hand. It’s always good for the soul to have a huggable pet
at hand, or possibly, foot.
A huggable pet, yesterday
Another healthful and psychologically restorative activity is beachcombing: this column is ample evidence that beachcombing is one of my favourite activities. So, yesterday evening, when the sun was setting and most of the terrorists tourists had packed up for the day, Crox Minor and I took Canis croxorum to Cromer East Beach, the Maison Des Girrafes answer to the Sandwalk
Cromer is, in fact, somewhat depauperate in terms of biodiversity, especially when compared with the rich profusion of life on the Atlantic seaboard. Shells are remarkably scarce: if you find anything at all, it’s likely to be a slipper limpet (Crepidula
… er … fornicata
). There, are of course, lots of crabs, both the shore variety (Carcinus maenas
) and the edible sort (Cancer pagurus
) for which Cromer is famous
. Most of what one thinks is seaweed are actually bryozoa, Flustra foliacea
, or hornwrack
This apparent lack of diversity might be more apparent than real. It’s all a question of getting your eye in, and after more than two years we’re getting rather good at finding things. Yesterday, for example, Crox Minor found this rather dramatic fish jaw (apologies for the low quality – the iPhone has yet to get a macro lens attachment) which as you can see from the scale is rather large. This will be, of course, just the front half of the entire jaw. I guess it’s a cod, but that’s just a guess.
Meanwhile I picked up this fragment of weed, which is neither bryozoan nor alga but sponge, which I guess is some species of Leucosolenia. You can tell it’s a sponge from the pores or oscula at the tips of the branches, and by the fact that this dried-out specimen (collected from above the tideline) feels – well, there’s no other way to say this – spongy.
Why is beachcombing so good for the soul? I have an idea about this, connected with human evolution. When Homo sapiens
first evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, the first thing he did was head for the beach. There is some evidence for this, from Eritrea
, and also South Africa
. Once at the beach, Homo sapiens
found, in shellfish, a kind of food that was nutritious, easy to catch and didn’t always need to be cooked. Seaweeds, crabs and other crustaceans and (of course) fishes made up a diet substantially enriched in minerals and essential fatty acids compared with inland diets. It might be no coincidence that the first vague scratchings of human art and culture occur at beach cave-sites such as Blombos
in South Africa. When human beings migrated around the world, strandlines provided the easiest routes, never far from sources of food.
Perhaps more fancifully, our ancient roots as beachcombers might explain why we love living by the sea, and millions of people from inland consider a vacation on the beach a perfect place to relax. Why else would people drive or fly at great expense and inconvenience, to a slim strip of sand or shingle next to a body of salty water?
I should stress that I am making no great claims for this idea: scenarios for the early environment of humans and their presumed legacy in people living nowadays generally have a debatable history
. On the other hand …