Life is a beach – then you die

Porpoise washed-up on north Devon beach

This baby porpoise was washed up on the beach at Westward Ho! on Friday.

One by one, people gathered, in consternation.

It was a rare sight, and, unusually early for baby porpoises (let alone dead ones).

The female passers-by were especially concerned, touched by the infant’s fate. I had a feeling of (unspoken) support passing from woman-to-woman: it is ok to feel concerned and want to do something about it.

So one of the women rung the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the police, to report the sighting. Then she gently pulled the porpoise to the dry rocks.

I could not help wondering if you could eat it.

Everyone wandered off and a lad in chef’s trousers appeared and crouched beside the porpoise. It was like a dream – the very person I needed to discuss the eating-merits of the beach-version of road-kill.

The young chef did not think it right to eat it but he did say (when I asked him) that porpoise might taste like tuna.

(He also said it was the third dead baby porpoise he’d seen this week, which was unusual and worrying. He thought they’d been caught in the huge nets beyond Lundy island, and discarded back to the sea, victims of unsustainable fishing.)

When the woman who had rung the RSPCA and the police returned, I tried to share my excitement of having a cheffy conversation just when I needed one.

She was shocked by my talk of eating the poor creature.

I felt I’d lost any compassion-points I’d previously gained. (Me and my big mouth. Literally.).

I had intended my foodie-interest in a respectful ceremonial hunter-gatherer sort-of-way. In my ignorance, if not my defence, I thought it was a fish. Now I know a porpoise is a mammal.

Plus, the unusually-early porpoise sighting had triggered apocalyptic-angst: what will we eat when the oil runs out?

I felt the baby porpoise needed honouring so suggested encircling it with stones. This would both give it protection until the police arrived, and a kind of ritual.

A pair of female walkers had now joined us, and one of them gave me confidence to carry out this concept.

“Good idea,” she said. “Do it!”

(I believe women sometimes need extra support to do female-centric acts in a world designed by men).

Thus encouraged, I set to work collecting stones. The other women, including the one whom I’d inadvertently shocked, joined in.

Mike then wrote in the sand: “Please do not touch. Police notified.”

(I observed he did not need to negotiate but just did it).

But the message interrupted the stones. Under my breath, I said: “I want to close the circle.”

The female walker overheard me. Again she encouraged me to follow my intuition. “Yes, close the circle,” she said.

When it was finished, I said: “Good team work.”

As she left, the woman who’d rung the RSPCA and the police called over her shoulder at me:

“Don’t eat it!”

Porpoise on beach

6 responses to “Life is a beach – then you die

  1. Hilarious! I just choked on my glass of vino after a very morbid day at work…

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  2. Very funny and poignant.

    It made me think (though I’m not sure quite why) of a mysterious incident from my childhood. Walking through a field in the Kent countryside in 1960-something I observed that every single cow pat in the field had had a Malteser placed carefully at its centre.

    I thought it was pretty odd at the time. Now I suspect it was an act of female-centric devotion. Please advise.

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  3. Proposing to eat the porpoise was not so femalecentric. But the consultative cooperative v action probably was.

    Your comment, as ever, neat and to to the purpose

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  4. Well if you ever get the opportunity again……

    Puddyng of purpaysse
    PERIOD: England, 15th century | SOURCE: Harleian MS 279 | CLASS: Authentic
    DESCRIPTION: Stuffed porpoise stomach

    ORIGINAL RECEIPT:
    .xl. Puddyng of purpaysse. Take þe Blode of hym, & þe grece of hym self, & Ote-mele, & Salt, & Pepir, & Gyngere, & melle þese to-gederys wel, & þan putte þis in þe Gutte of þe purays, & þan lat it seþe esyli, & not hard, a good whylys; & þan take hym vppe, & broyle hym a lytil, & þan serue forth.
    – Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.

    GODE COOKERY TRANSLATION:
    Pudding of porpoise. Take the Blood of him, & the grease of him self, & Oatmeal, & Salt, & Pepper, & Ginger, & mix these together well, & then put this in the Gut of the porpoise, & then let it boil easily, & not hard, a good while; & then take him up, & broil him a little, & then serve forth.

    INGREDIENTS:
    Porpoise blood
    Porpoise grease
    Oatmeal
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ginger
    One porpoise stomach
    DIRECTIONS:
    Combine the porpoise blood, porpoise grease, and oatmeal, & season it with salt, pepper, & ginger. This should be a thick & moist stuffing-like mixture. Stuff the porpoise stomach about half full with this, as the stuffing will swell during cooking.. Sew up the stomach tightly or secure each end with string, & prick it all over with a large needle to avoid bursting. Put an upturned plate in the base of a pot of boiling water, stand the stomach on this and bring back to the boil; boil steadily for 3 to 4 hours. Cook until done; remove from water and drain well. Place in a broiler and cook for several minutes on both sides to slightly crisp the skin, then serve.
    This recipe is essentially a porpoise haggis, as it uses all the elements found in the traditional Scottich haggis of a boiled sheep stomach with an oatmeal stuffing.
    If for some reason you are unable to find a porpoise stomach, you might try a sheep stomach, still used today when making haggis. Alternatively, you may do the “American” version of making haggis, which leaves out the stomach entirely and has the mixture baked in a loaf pan.
    Also, you may substitute a little white wine for the porpoise blood and butter or suet for the porpoise grease. Vegetable shortening may be also be used for the porpoise grease; the original recipe was probably intended for Lent and porpoise grease would have been an acceptable animal fat to use at that time. Vegetable shortening will probably be the closest and easiest alternative to fish grease if you wish to keep this a Lenten dish.
    GLOSSARY OF MEDIEVAL COOKING TERMS

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  5. I seem to remember when that whale swam into the Thames, someone saying that all beached whales, porpoises & dolphins are property of the Crown. So you could probably eat it but it would land you in the Tower.

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  6. This was a very interesting post and responses. I liked your comments about how the women discussed and came to a group decision, and the man made a decision, & executed it, no questions asked. Interesting observation. Thanks for the great post.

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