H G Wells wrote a horror story set in Sidmouth called “The Sea Raiders”. It tells of Mr Fison, a retired tea dealer, staying at a boarding house in Sidmouth. Whilst walking to Ladram Bay along the cliffs he noticed a flurry of seagulls over something pink in the rocks below. Making his way down Jacobs Ladder he scrambled over the Chit Rocks and to his dismay found several giant squid eating a human corpse. He threw a rock at them but they chased him and with tentacles lashing his legs he only just made it to Jacobs Ladder and with the help of some workmen warded off the creatures and escaped. There were more attacks with a fisherman and a boating party of tourists pulled overboard and eaten.
How times have changed! A horror story written in 1896 worries about unknown sea creatures harming humans. Today the horror story is about humans bringing an end to sea creatures.
The Cornish artist Kurt Jackson’s exhibition “Mermaids Tears” (see it on kurtjackson.com) is about the nurdles of plastic that are mixed in with sand and shingle on every beach in the world. Plastic dust fills the air, the rivers and ends up in the sea. There is plastic pollution all the way up Mount Snowden. There is plastic in the ice of Antarctica. Washing machine manufacturers advertise that their machines have extra filters to keep plastic fibres from rivers and seas. Tumble driers are said to be the most polluting for spreading plastic dust. Microplastics are inside plankton and poisoning every creature in the ocean’s food chain
Today if a giant squid or octopus, forced out of the deep by plastic in its food, should swim along the coast of Sidmouth it would shy away from any swimmer in wet suit or swim wear made of petrochemical fabric. But spying a picnic on the beach, with its amazing powers of camouflage it would silently and invisibly make its way behind the picknickers and with four arms grab a pasty, chips, ice-cream and a coffee and scuttle back to the ocean leaving shocked and hungry tourists watching nothing but a paper cup bobbing in the waves.