Monday, 3 June 2013

The Lugworm Chronicles

I have been enjoying the first of the Lugworm Chronicles—Lugworm on the Loose by Ken Duxbury. Lodestar books has published the trilogy that, despite popularity when first published in 1973, had gone out of print. And just as well, for Lugworm on the Loose is a classic that deserves resurrection and one that any small boat sailor or dreamer will enjoy. The books have beautiful, satin smooth hardback bindings, lovely paper and crisp print with pen and ink illustrations by Duxbury himself. 

Ken and his wife B (we never get to know her full name which has the effect of keeping this evidently tough and resourceful women somewhat in the background) trail their Drascombe Lugger out from under piles of tedious work and grey skies to sunbaked Greece. Aboard Lugworm they plot a winding route from Volos, avoiding the marauding Meltemi wind, to the Sporades and the Cyclades before taking the Corinthian Canal to the Ionian and finally to Corfu. Ken's writing depicts a peaceful Greece before the tourist boom wreaked havoc amongst the islands but you have to read between the lines to thoroughly grasp the sailing challenges they faced. Ken and B's britishness gives rise to some unintentional humour but is ultimately endearing. (They continually conform to Noel Coward's stereotype and, like mad dogs, set off for long walks in the blistering mid-day sun.) The book also contains some fascinating snippets concerning the local fishing practices. I particularly enjoyed an episode describing a technique for catching octopus.

Ken and B are in a bay near Korfos, in the Saronic Gulf just before entering the Gulf of Corinth. Wind bound they prepare for a day of sunbathing in the lee of an olive grove. Their peaceful morning is disturbed by a shepherd coming down the hill carrying a long pole with a bunch of sage leaves attached to one end. Ken watches as the shepherd, standing on a rock, sprinkles some drops of olive oil on the water and then submerges the leafy end of the pole and beings gently jigging it up and down. The shepherd, watches, waits and jigs to Ken's fascination until an eel-like form coils out from under a rock and then retreats. The shepherd, keeping the leaves undulating, moves the pole closer to the rocks as Ken peers down perceiving a feature that looks remarkably like a human eye set in a large brown blob. More tentacles appear and suddenly the sage is embraced by an octopus. The shepherd jerks the pole skyward and up comes a two-kilo octopus impaled on large barbs hidden in the bunch of leaves. Inserting a knife between its eyes the shepherd dispatches the creature and then disengages it from the hooks. He goes on to beat it on the rocks, Ken counts 75 times, before turning the head inside out and declaring 'Kalo'—it's good. Ken and B however, despite witnessing the Greeks enjoying octopus never quite overcome their mild revulsion.

I have never heard of this method before though it has some similarities with a Catalan practice in which a small rectangle of wood with weights on the underside and three large hooks on the top, baited with sardines or chicken is slung into the briny attached to a long line. The fisherman standing on the dock or in his boat slowly pulls in the line. Even in daylight an octopus can't resist the smell of a chicken carcass and will rapidly quit its cave to sink its beak into the meat. Nowadays beating the creature on the ground is not necessary (unless you're in a hurry to eat) as 24 to 48 hours in the freezer is enough to tenderise the flesh.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Ben. Looks interesting I'll have to get that one after I finish the current book I just got from Lodestar Book in todays mail: "Catalan Castaway" nice to have your writing's in hand.... Just was reading a little on page114 reminded me of a quote by Mark Twain “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” Thanks for your Blog also...Gracias


Ben said...

Hi Joe, some people have said to me that it makes a difference reading my writing off the page rather than from the screen. I certainly hope this is true and that you enjoy the book despite being familiar with the material.
I heartily agree with Mark twain.
All the best

Bursledon Blogger said...

I read a couple of the Lugworm books back in the mid 80s they were inspiring - almost forgotten how good they are - hmm secondhand Drascombe...........

Ben said...

Yes well worth the read and Drascombe luggers, the stuff of dreams...

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