Urban Myths no.2: Airport Caterpillars.

Caterpillar, Rotherhithe

Playground, Rotherhithe. © David Secombe 2003.

Giant Edible Caterpillars Seized at Gatwick*

Customs officers at Gatwick Airport got more than they bargained for when they searched the luggage of a passenger arriving from Nigeria: inside his suitcase they found more than ninety kilograms of giant caterpillars swarming inside a bubble wrap cocoon.

The man told the customs officials that they were for his personal consumption during his stay in Britain. However, the caterpillars are a popular delicacy across Africa and, as such, represent a valuable trading commodity. Customs official Bridget Fumes commented: ‘We get a lot of people trying to smuggle animals into the country – last month we had someone wearing a lizard as a hat and a man with a pair of monkeys down his trousers, but to my knowledge this is the first time we have had giant caterpillars.’

Stavros Wilt, an insect expert at the Natural History Museum, commented: ‘These are likely to be mopane worms, the larvae of emperor moths, which are commonly eaten in Africa. A favoured method of consumption is to pinch the caterpillar at the tail to rupture its innards, followed by a sharp flick to liberate the guts via the burst carapace. The resulting matter may be fried until crisp with onion, tomatoes and chillis. Alternatively, they may be dried and eaten raw as a crunchy snack.’

‘This was an unusual seizure but the vigilance of our officers prevented this consignment of rogue insects from entering the UK, and possibly posing a risk to the health and wellbeing of the populace,’ proclaimed Ms Fumes. ‘I would warn travellers not to attempt to bring any products of animal origin into the UK without a permit, as they may not have been inspected to appropriate standards and may contain diseases. These caterpillars are not something I expect to see in the Gatwick staff canteen any time soon!’

An increasing number of British outlets offer mopane worms for ‘own consumption only’. The online retailer Planet Nosh sells 40g bags for £16.99, saying that the insects are a tasty and nutritious alternative to traditional meat products, and describes them as ‘the ultimate barbecue novelty’. Experts estimate that the caterpillars seized at Gatwick had a street value of £40,000.

The caterpillars are being cared for at an animal rescue shelter in Kent.

* NB: A mostly, if not entirely, genuine news item: a mash-up of reports from International Business Times, The Independent, lepidoptera.pro, etc. The second in an occasional series. See also: The Supermarket Spider (http://wp.me/p1twhU-33W)


Two Men And A Dog.

BridgeSmoke-LC

© Bill Pearson 1982/85

Late August ’87 by Stephen Watts:

Saturday. Afternoon.
Thunder on the Greenland Dock.
A few kids. Wet sand. Fishing.
All of us feel the vatic lack.

Girders. Cranes. New roads.
Bright sciatic colours. Cans.
Concrete. Cables. Coiled wire.
Flesh still curt to our bone.

Autumn thunder on the Greenland
Dock. Suddenly – houses rearing up.
That pall of human indifference.
Heart of the heart ripped out.

Yellow air. Pipes of cloud.
A sky that’s been lifted from Bihar.
Houses with archways of walled wood.
Our lives. A crushed heat of air.

Cranes. Wet sand. Girders.
The kids laugh. And then scatter.
Dear body. The poor in their lack.
The rich in their whorl of languor.

© Stephen Watts

Bill Pearson writes:

I moved to New Cross Gate over the Easter weekend, 1981. My only previous experience of living in the big city had been a few years at Kingston upon Thames, very different in all respects to inner city south-east London. Exploring the new area I discovered empty, desolate docks and rundown industrial areas that reminded me of my homeland in the North of England. It was the early days of Thatcherism, before the Falklands War, before the inner city riots, and before the Miners’ Strike, when Thatcher was still the most unpopular Prime Minister there had ever been.

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© Bill Pearson 1982/85

My local Desolation Row was Surrey Docks – re-generated as Surrey Quays – but on walking and cycling trips I discovered the run down warehouses of Shad Thames (which still smelled of the spices they had once stored), Limehouse Basin, Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, which looked like a war zone. I remember rummaging around a warehouse in Wapping one day and hearing a roaring noise on the floor below. I rushed along to see what it was and discovered that the place had been set on fire by some local kids.

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© Bill Pearson 1982/85

The absent other in all of these photographs was Mr. Charles Fox. A Battersea Dogs Home graduate, selected for his fetching smile, his hairy ears and his endearing determination to escape from the Home by digging through the concrete floor. His name was chosen because nobody in our shared house was prepared to have the utility bills under their names, so Charlie the dog ended up taking responsibility for everything. He never seemed to mind. At the Post Office I would occasionally be asked, “are you Mr Fox?” – and when people from the utilities phoned up wanting to speak to Mr Fox and we would invariably say “He’s unable to speak at the moment”.

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© Bill Pearson 1982/85

Charlie and myself covered a lot of miles on our walks. Sometimes I would carry my Canon AE1 and sometimes I would take my Bolex movie camera and sometimes I wouldn’t take either because I couldn’t afford any film. On these urban forays, I often encountered a fellow rambler who turned out to be another newcomer to south-east London, a political exile from Soweto who had wound up living on the Pepys Estate in Deptford. Not that I knew this at the time: I only learned the identity of Chief Dawethi a quarter-century later, when Chief and I found ourselves sharing an office. Sharing our reminiscences of living in south-east London in the early 1980s, we discovered that we were the ghosts on each other’s travels. I mentioned that I took a lot of photographs back then, and it was Chief’s suggestion that people might be interested in those images, as the area had since changed beyond recognition. Chief’s insight encouraged me to dig out the negatives and study them with fresh eyes.

DocksideTowers-LC

© Bill Pearson 1982/85

Looking at them now, they appear as remnants of a lost world. ‘There is nothing more recent than the distant past’. It seemed unthinkable in the early 1980s that the purlieus of east London could ever become desirable, let alone exclusive. Yet the areas seen in these pictures is today the playground of those who profited from the sale of England; those inhabitants of the soulless apartments that are ruining the London skyline. Even Chief’s old stamping ground, the Pepys Estate, is home to Aragon Tower, one of the most up-scale of all gentrification projects, a block of high-rise council flats sold off and transformed into luxury riverside dwellings for the few that can afford them.

BigMoney-LC

© Bill Pearson 1982/85

What of Mr Charles Fox? He moved away to York with one of my housemates. We reasoned that he would have a much better life there than on the mean streets of south-east London. I saw him a few times after he moved and he seemed far happier in the North.

Text © Bill Pearson 2013.

ArchWrecks-LC

© Bill Pearson 1982/85

 Heart Of The City by Stephen Watts:

Grey sky. Fifteen cranes swing
between the road and the river.
A darkened ribcage of girders is
Fleshed out with granite slivers.

Slow bursts of cars stream past
and lead rises up to our rooftops.
It eats the aortas of our babies.
Wee kids who spiral at hopscotch.

We have savage material hearts.
Mine hangs just under my shoulder.
There are reds, yellows and ochres
if I think of colour in some order.

It hangs and pumps at my ribcage
as if a blue bag were slung there.
Full with wet fish & blae-berries.
Words – jump off my tongue here.

It is good to dream as dreaming
makes lucid our human potential …
The spiral of blood in our bodies.
Just where it pumps by my nipple.

Sunflowers. Asters. Fuchsia.
Whatever their colours they seem
held by tight and straitened stalks.
The sun will crash from its beam.

Too close to the savaged heart.
We live in the heart of this city.
Cranes that swing out on the dark
measure our hearts without pity.

© Stephen Watts.

 


Urban Myths. No.1: The Supermarket Spider.

Spider

Hillyfields, Lewisham. Photo © David Secombe 1999.

Deadly spider eggs found in supermarket bananas *

WHEN Heidi Slopes did her weekly food shop she picked up an innocent looking pack of bananas – little did she know that between the yellow fruit lurked a nest of spiders. The 53-year-old, who is scared of spiders, had the shock of her life when she spotted the white furry eggs.

“I usually buy a bunch of bananas but, ironically, I thought buying packaged ones would eliminate the chance of any creepy crawlies!” said Heidi, who lives in Lewisham with her husband Laszlo, 53. “My husband opened them and put them in the fruit bowl. I looked down and saw little white balls and suddenly panic stations were all go!”

Heidi wanted to get the suspicious package checked out, and after a phone call to health and safety at Lewisham council she was advised to take them back to the supermarket. “It took almost five hours of numerous phone calls to get hold of someone at the store, only to be told that I would need to bring the packaging and the receipt in for a refund,” said mother-of-three Heidi.

RSPCA animal collection officer Terence Whipps subsequently confirmed that the eggs were those of the Brazilian Wandering Spider, listed in the Guinness Book of Records a the most venomous animal in the world. It’s scientific name is Phoneutria nigriventer – the first element is Greek for ‘murderess’ – but it is also known as the banana spider because of its habit of stowing away in shipments of the fruit.

A supermarket spokesman said: “We want to reassure customers this was a very unusual and rare occurrence and we are really sorry for what must have been a real scare”.

Heidi is unmoved. “My little Juanita recently watched the film Charlotte’s Web and told me that there can be 64,000 eggs in one nest, so that made me even more paranoid! I just thought of my kids and how a spider bite could have changed things completely. I’m just so relieved they didn’t hatch. I wasn’t about to go rifling through my recycling bin just to claim £1.49 back. I was surprised that they were more concerned about the packaging than deadly spiders in their bananas.”

Mr.Slopes commented: “It gave us a real fright and no mistake. Supermarkets should be more careful. Horse meat I can cope with, but venomous spiders are another matter.”

* NB: not real news item … the above was drawn from The Daily Mail, BBC News website, Cardiff Online, etc. The first in an occasional series … 


A Winter Solstice offering.

Pig still lifePig’s head still life, south London, circa 1982. © David Secombe.

From the Hern’s Tribe website:  

Mid-Winter Solstice (Yule):  Outdoor Ritual in London

A special ritual to mark the end of one Mayan cycle and beginning of another. Join us for the Journey of the Fool, and quest through the 4 Elements to consecrate a magical Talisman. Anoint the Yule-log (yes a real one) with your wishes & hopes for 2013, and place it in the ritual fire. Then feast with home made bread, mulled Wine, some woodland tribal cooking. Don’t forget the Mistletoe!  There will be Wiccan elements to this ritual.

Date: Saturday 22nd December  2012. Venue: Coombe Lane  (From East Croydon station, take the `New Addington’ branch of the Tram, and get down at `Coombe Lane’ stop).

From Witchology, the history of Wicca and Witchcraft by Dr. Leo Ruickibie:

Yule celebrations in Wicca date back to the late 1950s.  Most Yule rituals will involve the casting of a circle, a ritual symbolising the rebirth of the solar deity, dancing round the circle and the feasting ceremony of ‘cakes and wine’. Other Wiccan covens might base their ritual on the passing of power from the Holly King to the Oak King – a concept derived from British folklore. The festival itself is entirely Pagan in origin. Echoes of old Druidic fertility rites survive in ‘kissing under the mistletoe’. Santa Claus has been Christianized as Saint Nicholas, but the tradition of a gift-bearing man arriving at mid-winter can be traced back to Wotan (Odin) in Germanic folklore.

Feasting is a large part of all Pagan traditions and at Christmas this is still a principle element. The focus of the meal around a specific animal is certainly a residue of animal sacrifice, although the popularity for turkey is a modern development. We should not be squeamish about animal sacrifice, it simply meant butchering an animal for the benefit of the community with a small and usually inedible portion being ‘given’ to the gods. Modern sensibilities are usually too cosseted to even contemplate killing a chicken, so we should not condemn the past on our own rather feeble standards.

David Secombe:

I would like to reassure my readers that the pig in the photo above was not the by-product of any crazed sacrifice, Wiccan or otherwise: it was prosaically acquired from a local butcher for the alleged purpose of making brawn, which was a fatuous attempt to disguise an equally fatuous artistic project. It was the early 1980s and I was an ambitious photographic student, my hunger for success exceeded only by the depth of my cluelessness. This porcine still life was shot on a cold December night in the back garden of my parents’ house in suburban south London, and was a study for – well, I wasn’t quite sure. It seemed like a good idea at the time … The transparency laid undisturbed for decades until it turned up in a cache of forgotten transparencies I found last month.  I offer it here as a seasonal offering in a more-than-averagely bleak midwinter; we’ve still got a week to go before the solstice on the 21st, and if the Hern’s Tribe lot are anything to go by, the south London suburbs are going to be where it’s at if paganism is your thing. As for me, I’ll be indoors, watching an old Ghost Story for Christmas on YouTube. Or perhaps this … (and I’m sure you’ll forgive the shameless plug).

… for The London Column.


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