Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Malcolm worries about whales...

It's the little things that niggle. Serious problems we generally manage to ignore, or at least bury in our consciousness.

Malcolm developed a closed mind to things like impending examinations (with the result that, for three decades after leaving Trinity, he was plagued by a persistent nightmare of re-sitting his subsidiary subject). Global warming and a world credit crunch pass him by as the idle wind, which he respects not.

Then, out of the woodwork comes a genuine and lasting itch to be scratched.

Today's is by courtesy of the BBC website, reporting a trite poll about daft laws:
The most absurd international law was judged to be in the US state of Ohio, where it is illegal to get fish drunk.
The 3,931 people asked selected the laws from a shortlist of bizarre rules.
A total of 27% of those questioned thought the law against dying in the Houses of Parliament was the most absurd, while 7% voted for the legislation banning placing postage stamps upside down.
In third place, with 6%, came a law stating that only a clerk in a tropical fish store has permission to be topless in public in Liverpool.
The one that came to occupy his attention was:
The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen.
Now, Malcolm is Norfolk born, Norfolk bred ("strong in the arm, weak in the head"), and originated in the small seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea.

When he was very young, a whale's carcass was washed up on Holkham beach. Malcolm remembers, having bicycled down to inspect, he was singularly disappointed by the size of the whale: this was no fit match for Captain Ahab and his doughty crew. Only later did it intrude into his growing consciousness that whales, like dogs, came in different varieties.

The point was that the local authority was responsible for disposing of what was rapidly becoming a noxious and offensive pile of offal. N0body seemed greatly concerned who got the head or the tail. Three local authorities, Wells Urban District, and the two Rural Districts covering Walsingham and the Burnhams, held sway over barely a mile or so of coastline.

At which point, Malcolm displays sheet 125 of the Ordnance Survey One-Inch map, copyright 1954, to prove it. We believe you, Malcolm, we truly do.

None of these three Councils had a population of more than three thousand at best. The invoice for burying even such a modest whale would make a substantial hole, both literally, and in terms of the balance sheet.

Mysteriously, over three nights, the whiffy whale moved itself across the three Council boundaries. There was some attempt to blame the tide: those, who believed themselves in the know, reckoned that underwriting the beer fund of a local well-known citizen, of a poaching disposition, and with access to a tractor, also played a part.

By this time the whale was somewhat friable (though the memories of wartime foodstuffs were too recent for anyone to think of fried whale-meat). Passers-by were observing from further and further off.

It so happened that Walsingham was furthest from the action, and so was the neighbour who was well and truly beggared. The whale was duly interred (or ensanded) by the same party who had been shifting it nocturnally. Since this individual was effectively paid four times, and in substantial part the final bill befell to the Coke family (of Holkham Hall and the main local landlord), it was a matter of considerable delight to him. And amused local dissidents.

A further warming of his cockles was that the Coke family included both Lord Leicester (who reared pheasants, suitable for the poaching thereof) and his brother, the Chairman of the local Magistrates' Bench (before whom said individual from time to time appeared). Thereby honour was indeed satisfied.

Now, as to those topless clerks of tropical fish .... Sphere: Related Content

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