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She sells sea shells on the sea shore.

A good old fashioned tongue twister, give it a go in the privacy of your own mind. It actually presents something of a challenge even in that format, which is interesting.

Well if she was selling sea shells on the sea shore today business would not be going to well. It might well be illegal to remove shells from the beach, which could be why she was selling them on the sea shore in the first place.

Most of the regular browsers to this site know I live within a stones throw of the sea. A good high tide would probably roll into the driveway nowadays but lets not wish that on me just yet.

What follows is an ill-thought out rant with many holes in the dyke of argument which would take a lot more than a persistent Dutch boy to shore up. I forgive myself on the basis this is a site about cigarette cards, something I do no know a little about and not about fragile ecosystems, which I know not a lot about.

Common Cockles, maybe, Alive-Alive-O, probably not

Anyway years of living in-land and coming to visit the seaside meant eventually the inevitable happened. Why don't we move to the seaside. A holiday all the year round.

Wills, The Sea-Shore

Not quite. Freezing gales lash the coast and in the summer the place is invaded by holiday makers. Don't get me wrong it would be awful if they did not come as most coastal towns in the UK are now used as drop zones for social services and the place has a pension book mentality. Without those holiday makers the place might as well drop into the hungry sea.

Why am I unusually bitter in this introduction?

I have just walked the dogs on the beach. The little blighters are not allowed to go to the toilet on the sands, sand washed twice a day. Fair enough I suppose but I would be amazed they would wanted to. The nations water is polluted, it has been used as a dumping zone for far too long. The sea can take a lot of dumping but the cheap fix of dumping sewage a few hundred yards out to sea does not seem on really. I know the authorities tell me it would cost more. Well as long as they could actually prove to me they were spending the huge amounts of money they do squeeze out of us wisely then fair enough, they can hold out a grasping hand. Posting profits of millions of pounds and telling me they cannot afford to improve sewage facilities to clear up a beach is not good enough.

The coastline of the United Kingdom is 12429km in length which in old money is about 7578 miles.
Great Britain is the 8th largest island in the world. Which means it can fit inside the worlds largest lake (The Caspian Sea) with considerable room to spare.
This sort of statistic certainly puts you in your place when you start having dreams of world domination.

In 1938 Wills produced a set of cards called The Sea Shore. A series of 50 cards it shows items which were commonly found on the sea shore. I assume they were common items found on the sea shore although I can hardly believe this to be the case. Five of the cards have 'common' in the title which suggests this was the intention. As with so many 'common' species of 60 years ago the name is miserable irony.

Card 7 shows the egg case of the blonde ray, which solved a childhood mystery of exactly what these things were. We called them mermaid's purse, which I assume is a common enough name for them. Reading the back of the card I was surprised to learn these cases only ever contain one egg and the occupant will have invariably left by the time it gets washed ashore. Trouble is they do not get washed ashore in the numbers they used to.

Horror, by card 18 another childhood myth was blasted from the water. Those sponges we used to play with by the hundred (they did make excellent 'bombs') turn out to be 'Eggs of Whelk'. It adds the fact that the young whelks are cannibals and many of the eggs are destroyed by their own kind.

Worrisome that egg cases are not appearing in the numbers they were.

Ever since I have been living on this coast I have only ever found about five Razor Shells (card 13). Okay so I do not go out every day actively searching for them, so there are going to be more but not 'often found empty' as the card suggests.

Card 27 depicts The Shore Crab, not the most pleasant of God's animals but it has its place My childhood is full of memories of buckets full of crabs all fighting and struggling to escape the confines. These were soon accumulated, at eight years of age patience is no virtue. Two minutes of looking and not finding would have you going onto other projects. I even remember the gusto with which my pet dog used to rush along and crunch them up. Very little of that happens any more although perhaps the latest dogs are not quite as keen on this hobby. Card 28 has another reminder of the time, Edible Crab. Indeed a number of the cards have things which they claim to be edible. With all the food scares of the modern world and the fact that it would seem anything in a shell floating about the sea eats as much mercury as it can get its gills on how edible is this stuff, afterall poison is edible thats the problem with it. As mad as a fishmonger could well be a modern version of the mad hatter.

Card 31 has the hermit crab. These little creatures live in the discarded shells of other sea animals. I imagine now there is quite a cut-throat housing market going on. A hermit crab without a home is called dinner. Behind its menacing claws it has a rather soft flabby body. Quite possibly I am evolving into a hermit crab ( Kafka pretty much beat me to this image as did that rather bizarre 1970's movie 'Oh Lucky Man.'). Needless to say hermit crabs make good fish bait once they have been removed from their shells and stuck on a sharp hook The morality of fishing I will leave for another day I think.

In days of old I would go sea fishing. I even used to catch stuff. You could catch cod and eat it. This set has a good number of the baits I used to use. Not just razor-shell occupants or hermit crab but also lugworms, card 34. Now I have a special affinity with your humble lugworm. It is a personal thing (head here to find out.)

Before we went fishing we would go down on the beach and dig up those lugworms, buckets of them. Like the crabs I wonder where they have all gone, have young girls picked them, everyone? Or young boys dug 'em up everyone. When fishing the first fish would be beaten to death (forget all the humane stuff you see on TV this fishing red in beak and claw.) and stuck in the drop net. Dropped over the side of the pier, hey presto a drop net full of hermit crabs. Pulled from their shells ther soft bodies could be pushed onto a hook and excellent bait resulted.

A few cards previous to this is another favourite bait, Ragworm. The best was King Rag, at least it sounded better. In my memory these were never common now they are a little rarer than hens teeth in my book.

Now most fisherman go to the local tackle shop to buy these baits at ridiculous prices given you can dig them out of the sand. So why do they, simple, they are not in the sand in the quantities they were.

Seaweed takes over the last few cards in this series. It used to mark the high tide line, hundreds of yards of seaweed would tell the casual observer where the tide had reached. The smell of the stuff could be overwhelming as it dried out in the sun. This more than anything would give the seaside that distinctive smell. Now the tide line is marked out by litter of all unsavoury manner, the rotting of which often gives a seaside town that distinctive smell.

Well that is where we started I suppose.

This set is a small reminder of the days before the huge quantities of pollution started laying waste to the ecosystem in one manner or another. I am no Luddite, (I am a pessimist who believes we are not going to save the planet, its going to have to save itself, probably by wiping out large quantities of the worlds population.) all I want is a sewage pipe which goes far enough out to sea so it is more effective than just throwing buckets of effluent onto beaches people are going to play on. Perhaps if the UK builds a pipe big enough we could pump the stuff straight onto the shores of Europe. No doubt such a scheme would get plenty of political support. Maybe then I could walk the dogs and they could crunch up crabs, there would be no housing shortage for hermit crabs and I could throw Whelk eggs at my enemies from behind sand barriers. You never know I might even risk taking my shoes off.