Monday, 15 February 2016

A World of Mud



Seen from a lofty viewpoint at the top of the Gorge, with the Portway and the Clifton Down railway running in parallel, the Avon seems perfectly contained in its channel. In the distance plumes of smoke and steam rise from the industries of Avonmouth, and beyond them the hills of Wales can be made out, despite the haze.


But the Avon is tidal, getting a massive push upstream twice a day from the Bristol Channel, which has the second highest tidal range in the world. When the plug is pulled, the brimming channel becomes a dismal mudbank. Further downstream, about half-way to Avonmouth, the River Trym flows into the Avon at Sea Mills. It, too, is affected by the tidal flow, and becomes if anything even more dismal at low tide.


When I was there last week it was especially grim, as it was apparent that the recent heavy rains had caused the Trym to overtop its banks at high tide, leaving a muddy trail of detritus smeared all over the grass. Curiously, alongside the expected litter of containers, wrappers and bottles, there was an improbable quantity of plastic balls, presumably lost or left outside in riverside gardens and playing fields, and flushed out by the water from their hiding places.


28 comments:

Thomas Rink said...

It would be a nice intellectual pastime to imagine some future archeologists doing excavations in such places - what sense would they make of all this debris? Prehistoric cultures are named after the most predominant artifacts found: We have e.g. the Beaker Culture, the Urnfield Culture, you name it. On my edgeland expeditions, I often wonder how they could label our civilization - the Car Tyre Culture?

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

Yes, indeed -- people are quite seriously arguing for a new geological period, the Anthropocene, where our impact on sediments, etc., has become a noticeable feature. Plastic bags and ring-pulls from cans will probably be the most widespread items!

Of course, those plastic balls will keep floating to the top, and never get buried in the "correct" layer...

Mike

Thomas Rink said...

Makes me think of the container filled with rubber ducks which fell over board somewhere in the pacific some 20 years ago. Since then, these rubber ducks float around the globe (about 30'000 of them). Read this some time ago. There is even a Wikipedia article about them (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendly_Floatees).

Best, Thomas

Thomas Rink said...

PS: As to the predominant items of debris over here: Based on the numbers, it's mostly glass bottles (cans don't play a role over here since there is a deposit on them). Based on visual impact, it's tyres - all sorts of them, from small wheelbarrow tyres to the giant rear wheels of tractors, but passenger car tyres are the majority. One frequently finds them in gullies between fields, but also on flood plains near rivers. As of lately, I like to include them in my pictures to provide some traces of the "Hand of Man". Downside is that my wife banned those pictures from our living room walls ;^)

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Ah, yes, the rubber ducks! Objects of ritual duck worship, no doubt...

Mike

Gavin McL said...

A very nice TEMPSC there. Totallly Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft - or lifeboat.

I always imagined cigarette butts as the most common artefact left behind. Some archeologists are already working on that.

http://www.archaeology.org/issues/193-1511/features/3761-archaeology-of-cigarettes

Mike C. said...

Gavin,

Ah, thanks, is that what it is? I did wonder... At first I thought it was an orange tarpaulin over a boat, but then realised it was solid, and with no real windows! On the side it says "42 persons", which must be a bit of a squash...

Mike

amolitor said...

A BIG BRASS BROKEN BEDSTEAD

Mike C. said...

Same to you, mate, with brass knobs on!*

Mike

* Ancient Cockney banter

amolitor said...

Did Swann and Flanders predate you? They have a song about this exact phenomenon, ascribing it all to the Society of British Bedstead Men, and the big brass broken bedstead figures prominently.

Mike C. said...

Wot, the "brass knobs"? Don't know nuffink about Flanders and Swann, it's simply something we used to say when we woz nippers, a boilerplate response to a perceived insult.

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

42 persons? You sure that ain't them there immigrunts coming in on the high tide? They'ze prably hiding out in the caves under the cameral oscural!

Fascinating piece about the fagends, Gavin! As if the human race is going to survive archeological spans into the future! Maybe instead, one day robots will discover the mystery of their own origins by trawling through landfill sites?

I'm skeptical, though, of Graesch's claim that his students' assemblage of more than 350 packs really constitutes “the largest collection of cigarettes [...] at an institution of higher education.” I'm willing to bet someone* at Soton has come back on the P&O with a larger "collection" -- they're just not saying ...

*There is no suggestion intended that the esteemed blogmeister is such a person.

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

It is an odd place for such a craft, when you think about it, isn't it?

The ciggie study is fascinating, isn't it? Although it did rather remind me of the Bad Old Days when I smoked and, having woken up and run out of tobacco, would unpick and re-roll the contents of last night's ashtray. Argh. I feel sick just thinking about it...

Great website that, btw, the "News" section is one of my regular daily visits.

Sadly, there are no longer any ferries from Soton to anywhere other than the Isle of Wight -- the Skates (Portsmouth) do all that, now. Soton is strictly freight containers and luxury liners. What gets smuggled in is therefore rather more valuable than duty-free fags, hence the security round the docks these days...

Mike

Thomas Rink said...

Ha! Got it at last, the "big brass broken bedstead" thing! Manchmal fällt der Groschen pfennigweise ...

To quote:
"The lily ponds of Sufolk, and the mill-ponds of the west
Are part of Britains heritage, the part we love the best.
Our river-banks and sea-shores, have a beauty all can share,
Provided there at least one boot,
three treadless tyres
a half-eaten pork pie
some oil drums
an old felt hat
a lorry load of tar blocks
and a broken bedstead there."

See? Not only a bedstead, they also have tyres there (emphasis mine).

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

Now I'm really confused... As if that mattered! Let there be bedsteads!

Mike

Gavin McL said...

I've been in a few lifeboats for drills (lifeboat drill is normally on a Sunday, just after lunch). You normally sit around the sides on benches with a rudimentary harness to hold you in place, the larger ones having two rows like a mini amphitheatre. There might be a row of people down the middle. A coxswain to steer and a engine tender. Everybody should be wearing a life jacket so if they are full they would be very tight with virtually no room to move around. But as ships normally have 200% lifeboat capacity you rarely end up in a full one. They smell inside of diesel and fibreglass. Actually having to use one for their intended purpose would not be pleasant. They get sold off cheap once they reach a certain age or rules change. I doubt they'd be much good for leisure purpose, they're not very fast, and aren't particularly manoeverable - though if that's what you can afford and you like messing around on boats you could do worse, and it's unlikely to sink under you.

Mike C. said...

OK, everyone, now hear this:

Let's keep the bedsteads, the bedknobs, the lifeboats, and life-jackets strictly separate, or we'll be in serious trouble. And put that cigarette out!

That is all.

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Manchmal fällt der Groschen pfennigweise ...

Interesting expression, though I'm not quite sure what it means? "Sometimes a halfpenny falls pennywise"? Not related, I take it, to the English "penny dropping" (when you finally realise something you should have twigged earlier)?

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Yes, that's about it -- the Groschen has the bigger value -- so it's more like "sometimes the shilling goes in the meter a penny at a time". I suppose the best idiomatic translation would be simply "the penny has finally dropped" (or even "duh...")

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Behind where I believe you stood to take picture #1 appear to be the boundary lines (as seen in Google Earth) of nearly 20 football fields, of various sizes. Do they ever fill to the point of needing them all simultaneously? How would you know which field to play on, if you were supposed to report to this location? More curious artifacts for the future.

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Ha! Yes, that's Clifton Downs, quite a sight on Wednesday afternoons when the university traditionally has a "games afternoon" for students. If you thnk that's confusing, you should check out Hackney Marshes in London...

Mike

Mike C. said...

Though I'd forgotten the bastards have plonked the Olympic village all over what *was* Hackney Marshes, in its heyday many square miles of football pitches...

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Amazingly the two "water craft" you picture are also visible on Google Earth. A queer craft that lifeboat, that's for sure.

Mike C. said...

So they are -- they weren't there last time I was down there, not so long ago. Must have refreshed the imagery quite recently, though berths for local craft tend to be fixed, I suppose. Google Maps/Earth is fun, and a useful supplement to a proper map, though no substitute for one on the ground. But compared to the cost of owning maps of the entire world at various scales...

I wonder if all that data (or significant subsets of it) could be contained in an equivalent of the Kindle -- about A4 size, weatherproof, long-life battery, controls easy to use wearing gloves... It'd beat using one of those horrible GPS things.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

No doubt once we get wi-fi everywhere, it could be done. In fact, I believe an iPad with cellular could access Google Earth from anywhere and give you what you want (as long as there is a cell signal within range.) In that particular location, I'm sure it would be no trouble. More remote locations would be extremely questionable.

Mike C. said...

I was thinking of something pre-loaded at home that wouldn't need wi-fi in the field, the same way you can get GPS devices with pre-loaded selections of Ordnance Survey maps (and whatever the US equivalent is). Zoomable data, toggled between map and Earth, on a rugged A4 tablet would be great.

Zouk Delors said...

Mike, have a look at https://support.google.com/gmm/answer/6291839?p=maps_android_tips_tricks&hl=en-GB&rd=1

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Zouk, I'll check that out. Wonder how much data it actually downloads? Only one way to find out...

Mike