- Aug 18, 2005
- Moto Guzzi V7 Special, Saab 900 Turbo
I haven't laughed this much in ages.
How to blow up a dead seal
Last weekend the Sunday Times Home section devoted a lot of space to moving to the seaside and living for the rest of your life in a chunky polo neck sweater and yellow wellies. It all looked terribly idyllic.
But I have a cottage by the coast and let me tell you there are certain aspects of life by the sea that you might not have considered: like, for instance, what you are supposed to do when an 8ft seal comes to the beach outside your house and dies.
No, I didn?t club it. And nor had it become entangled in the ?40 worth of fishing equipment that I lose in the oggin every evening. Global warming? Perhaps, but contrary to the teachings of Rolf Harris there is another, more common way for seals to die. It?s called old age.
Whatever, it was dead and despite a limited knowledge about these things I knew that I had maybe two days before it would start to smell pretty bad.
?Push it into sea,? said one local. A fine plan I?m sure, but such was the weight of the thing I think it would have been easier to push the sea onto the seal. God it was heavy.
And worse, while trying to manhandle it through the shallows, its eyes fell out.
So now I?m standing up to my shins in water that?s being stained a sort of pungent reddy brown, and all around small fish and crabs are fighting one another to eat the eyes. This is something David Attenborough doesn?t show.
The gruesome, cruel, revolting side of nature.
I?m not ashamed to admit that after only a very short while I was prodigiously sick. And then the crabs start to eat that.
Happily I recently bought a special eight-wheel-drive vehicle for just such an emergency, so I reversed this on to the beach with a view to pulling the seal above the high-water mark. Carefully I tied a rope to its flippers, and promptly pulled them off.
Say what you like about seals, that they?re cute and so on, but I can assure you they are incredibly badly made. The slightest tug or nudge causes bits of them to come away.
Anyway, after much revving and many arguments with my wife about what sort of knot would be best, we finally had the beast on dry land. But then what? Momentarily I considered towing it to a nearby beauty spot where people were camping illegally. A rotting seal with no eyes or feet would soon clear them away. ?No,? said another passing local, ?you should turn it into a coat.?
This raises an interesting point. You might think you?re prepared for a life by the sea. You can probably paint, and arrange flowers, and make jam from kelp, but can you skin a seal? I?m willing to bet you can?t. And neither can I, so I decided to burn it.
Of course, I?ve watched Ray Mears many times and I know that it?s easy to light a fire with nothing but patience and some dry wood. But this is the Isle of Man and I?d like to see him find some dry wood here. It all falls into two categories: damp or sodden.
I collected as much of it as I could, along with half a ton of litter that?s always easy to find on a beach, and made what would pass for a Viking funeral pyre . . . and then went to the garage to buy a couple of gallons of diesel.
Not since the wreckers were operating round these parts has the Isle of Man seen such an enormous blaze. All day it spat and crackled and I went to bed that night pleased that I?d found an appropriate and dignified way for the seal to be dealt with.
But it didn?t work. The seal emerged with nothing more than a lightly singed coat.
So I built an even bigger fire. This one was going to make the conflagration in Hemel Hempstead look like the pilot light in your boiler. I bought diesel, petrol, meths, engine oil, kindling and even a light sprinkling of gunpowder. Then I lit a match and knew immediately I?d overdone it. The pile didn?t catch fire. It exploded.
The savagery was incredible. It looked like Beirut out there. Nothing within 50 yards was as it had been. Except the seal. It remained in one piece, only now it had a small gash in its stomach through which its intestines were poking. These smelt terrible.
I therefore rented, for the not inconsiderable sum of ?175 a day, a bulldozer so that I could dig a grave for the lightly singed, mildly split corpse. This is an expense you might not have considered when thinking about moving to the seaside.
Have you ever tried digging a grave on a shingle beach? It can?t be done. Shingle is the geological equivalent of the Hydra. You scoop 10 stones out of the way and immediately 10 grow back to fill the cavity.
By the time my 24-hour bulldozer rental period was up, the hole was just about big enough for Willie Carson. But not a big dead grey seal, so I?m afraid there?s no happy ending. It?s still out there, making the whole postcode smell like Cambodia?s killing fields.
I thought that a life by the sea would be relaxing. I thought it?d be nice to work here.
And it is, although I must say this is the first newspaper column I?ve written while wearing a gas mask.