Lest We Forget

Writer, historian and self-confessed dystopian fiction enthusiast, Lela Tredwell explores her grief for the fallen on Remembrance Day for Lost Species

2016 was the year of the Bramble Cay melomys – a small rat-like creature that once lived on a low-lying coral cay on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Officially extinct as of May 2016, it is the first recorded mammal to have been wiped out by the effects of anthropogenic climate change (caused by humans).

The idea of humans outranking other creatures is not a new one. It pre-dates the Chain of Being of the Middle Ages (a visual metaphor for a divinely-inspired hierarchy of all forms of higher and lower life), and can be tracked back to ancient civilisations, including the Greeks. By the 21st Century, however, we seem to have well and truly asserted ourselves as the super-police of the natural world.  

Are we competing with the earthworm, wanting to get top spot for the species impacting most on the world? If so, we’re still way off worm status. The Chain of Being put earthworms at the very bottom of the pyramid, ironic then that the humble creatures should have such an essential role to play on earth. Much more so, it now turns out, than humans. 

As vultures decline in India, in part due to a man-made drug, carcasses litter the land and stray dogs move in; cases of rabies have spiked. In upsetting the balance of nature we will only come to hurt ourselves. David Attenborough famously said that if we don’t do something about our population growth, nature will. It calls to mind the plight of the bumble and the honey bee, which tirelessly pollinate over a third of our own food source yet we allow them to be poisoned by agricultural chemicals. My grandfather was a beekeeper; it breaks my heart. 

 A memorial made by Eri Meacock

 A memorial made by Eri Meacock

My own grieving for extinct species started at a young age, when I discovered the oozlum bird was really dead for good, if it ever even existed, from a Carry On film. Up the Jungle suggests the oozlum bird might have got away but a shaking of the head from my mum confirmed the worst. So I’ve been carrying that weight of guilt and disappointment – along with the other disturbing elements of early exposure to Carry On films – around with me for a long time. At primary school I sponsored animals, supported Greenpeace and wrote letters to newspapers, which I would sometimes send but often stick them proudly in my project book. I used to fantasise about standing aboard Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship screaming sense through a megaphone.

But despite valiant efforts, in the last 40 years our planet has lost half its wildlife (WWF). Three species become extinct every hour and many more stalk the endangered list.

Perhaps grieving the loss of fellow species is a strange concept. But why not when everything is connected? Species extinctions are invariably linked to the loss of cultures and places, and we haven’t had the rituals to adequately grieve – until now.

Remembrance Day for Lost Species has been held in Brighton on 30 November for the past six years and its impact is spreading. Previous events saw a Viking burial at sea for the Great Auk, 'flying' the last passenger pigeon to the Life Cairn on Mount Caburn and the Thylacine Tribute Cabaret – a theatrical homage to the Tasmanian tiger. It is a chance to share the stories of those lost in the sixth mass extinction, and to renew commitments to those remaining. 

The impetus for the event started when Persephone Pearl came ‘face-to-face’ with a taxidermy thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) in Bristol Museum. She felt a deep sense of grief for the marsupial carnivore, which was shot to extinction in 1936 by European settlers. She wanted to break it out from its glass case and give it a proper burial. 

Caspian Tiger Shrine, September 2013

Caspian Tiger Shrine, September 2013

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece Oryx and Crake, characters adopt the code names of extinct species. Which would you choose? The West African black rhinoceros, the quagga, the Caribbean monk seal? For me it's Steller's sea cow.

Discovered in 1741 by Arctic explorers, who estimated its population to be 2,000, these sirenians were wiped out only 30 years after meeting humanity – killed to provide seal hunters with meat on long journeys. No specimens remain today but we know they measured over 30 ft and weighed 22,000 lbs, much larger than the surviving manatee and dugong. They had small heads, broadly forking tails and no teeth. They used stumpy flippers near the front of their bodies to move themselves over rocks and hold fast to them in rough seas. They had little ability to submerge and so they floated on the surface, eating kelp and seaweed – an easy target for harpooning. So today, on Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I will light a candle for the fallen Steller’s Sea Cow. How long will it be before we are lighting flames for the extinct snow leopard, orangutan and polar bear?

A child visits the ‘grave’ of Bombus Franklini during the Funeral for Lost Species. 

A child visits the ‘grave’ of Bombus Franklini during the Funeral for Lost Species. 

One Native American saying teaches that we are merely borrowing the earth from our children. What then will future generations think when they discover that we have wiped out part of their future world, and they must live on a planet without the biodiversity that kept balance?

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, China: Between Clouds and Dreams, school children have been investigating the decline of the spoon-billed sandpiper, which is on the brink of extinction but has been given a recent reprieve by a breeding program in Russia. The children are asked to keep 'spoonie' safe during its migration to the warmer climate. The children found that chemical factories in their area are having a detrimental effect on both the wildlife and human population. The vast mudflats south of Yangkou on the Jiangsu coast where their beloved ‘spoonie’ birds feed are being contaminated.

On 30 November 2015, Remembrance Day for Lost Species cast a bronze bell which was tolled 108 times to mark the passing of extinct species. This year, they are encouraging people to make their own tributes to lost creatures – whether that be by lighting a candle, hosting an event or simply sharing their thoughts on Twitter. Lest we forget, we are all in this together.

Feral Theatre’s Thylacine Tribute Cabaret, September 2016.

Feral Theatre’s Thylacine Tribute Cabaret, September 2016.

Read more about Remembrance Day for Lost Species at onca.org.uk/ongoingprojects, join in with an event on their Facebook page and share your extinction tributes on Twitter.

 

Obsolete jobs

If you think your current 9-to-5 is a bit of a drag, spare a thought for the poor souls who had to do these foul-smelling, back-breaking and often downright dangerous jobs. Whether through technology, health and safety or social enlightenment, these professions are, thankfully, now a thing of the past.

Image: Mudlarks of Victorian London (The Headington Magazine, 1871)

Image: Mudlarks of Victorian London (The Headington Magazine, 1871)

gong farmer

In Tudor times, gong farmers had the delightful task of emptying cess pits and privies of human excrement – or ‘night soil’ – and transporting it outside the city. They only worked at night and had to live a fair distance away from others so as to minimise the chances of spreading any nasty diseases they may have picked up. And because, frankly, they stank.

herb strewer

Before there were sewers, there were herb strewers. But they only worked for royalty. Dating back to the 17th century, the strewer’s job was to scatter sweet-smelling herbs and plants throughout the royal apartments to disguise the stench emanating from the Thames. When trod underfoot, the herbs would release their aromas to ensure royal noses remained unsullied.

mudlark

A mudlark was someone, usually a child, who scraped a paltry living by scavenging in the mud along the low tide line of the RiverThames. Working among raw sewage, excrement and the occasional corpse, they’d gather up bits of iron, rope, copper and coal that had fallen into the river – although the more daring would also pilfer from passing barges. 

knocker-upper

During the Industrial Revolution, early shifts were the norm at factories and mills, but most people couldn’t afford alarm clocks to get them up in the morning.To ensure the workforce arrived on time for their daily toil, a knocker-up was employed to tap, tap, tap on the bedroom windows of the sleeping workers using a long stick, until they were roused from their slumber.

legger

Early canal tunnels were narrow and didn’t have towpaths.The legger’s job was to walk or ‘leg’ the vessel through the cold, dark tunnels.Working in pairs, lying on planks attached to either side of a boat, they navigated through tunnels up to a mile long. Physically demanding and highly dangerous, it was common for leggers to come to grief and be crushed between the hull and the tunnel wall. 

Words: Brian Chapman. Originally published in issue 5 of Ernest Journal.

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The wonders of birch fungus

A common sight growing on the bark of living and dead birch trees all year round, the birch polypore has many surprising uses. Use it for dressing a wound or starting a campfire.

Make a plaster

If you cut your finger in the woods and find yourself without a first aid kit, birch polypore is the next best thing as it is porous and has anti-bacterial properties. The younger the fungus the better, so look for a creamy white or pale-brown topped fungus and cut a plaster-sized strip into the underside. Peel off the strip – it should be thin and stretchy like micropore tape. Wrap around the wounded finger, stretching as you apply, and you’ll find it binds to itself. Marvellous! 

Sharpen your knife

Birch polypore’s nickname is ‘razor strop fungus’ as it was historically used to sharpen cut-throat razors. Again, using a youngish fungus, cut a strip, leave to dry then glue it onto a piece of wood, or use as is. Run your knife back and forth along the strip as you would on a normal strop for a finely honed blade.

Ward off insects

Simply cut a thick block of the fungus, apply a spark and leave to smoulder on a dish. The tar-rich smoke should keep pesky flying insects away from your camp. 

Start a fire

This only works with fungus that is dead but not too rotten – it should be dark brown, firm and not fall apart when you handle it. Apply a spark and allow to smoulder – you’ll see the flame very slowly working its way up the spore tubes. Wrap in dry leaves, cover with twigs and small branches and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a fire. 

Illustration by Ruth Allen of Blue Eggs and Tea. This originally featured in issue 5 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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The Odditorium x Buxton Festival

The Odditorium – the bestselling book by David Bramwell and the makers of Ernest Journal – is going on tour! Our first stop is the wonderful Buxton Festival Book Weekend this coming Saturday 19 November. Come along for an evening of engaging and surprising talks – an inspiring medley of Antarctic exploration, literary hoaxes, wild avant-garde art, time travel and the world’s largest underground temple. Here's what to expect from the evening...

Archive image kindly supplied by Daisy Campbell

Archive image kindly supplied by Daisy Campbell

Literary hoaxes: from the playwright incarcerated for “crimes against library books” to the ‘seeker’ who tried to rebrand the Royal Shakespeare Company

David Bramwell shares stories of our most daring literary tricksters: W. Reginald Bray, a Victorian postal prankster who mailed over 30,000 singular objects (including himself, half-smoked cigarettes, a letter ‘to the nearest residents’ of the Old Man of Hoy and an Irish terrier named Bob). Playwright Joe Orton, who was jailed for “crimes against library books”. Theatre director and ‘seeker’ Ken Campbell, who pulled off one of the greatest pranks in British history by re-branding the RSC as The Royal Dickens Society. And Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, a West Country plumber who reinvented himself as a Tibetan lama and went on to become the best-selling author of books on Tibet. 

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven: the woman who was the future

John Higgs introduces us to the Baroness Elsa, a wild avant-garde artist who wore cakes for hats, postage stamps for makeup and a bra made from two tomato cans and green string. Over a 100 years before Lady Gaga turned up wearing a meat dress, the Baroness was genuinely shocking. John argues that the Baroness, a previously overlooked character in history, should not only be recognised as the first American Dada artist and first New York punk, but also the originator of Duchamp’s Fountain, voted the most influential work of art in the twentieth century. 

Eyewitness Accounts with Scott in the Antarctic by Herbert Ponting

Eyewitness Accounts with Scott in the Antarctic by Herbert Ponting


The worst journey in the world: the life and aspirations of Apsley Cherry-Garrard

James Burt explores the life and times of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of three explorers on Captain Scott’s fatal Antarctic expedition who was tasked with “the weirdest bird’s-nesting expedition that has ever been or will be.” Facing brutal blizzards (their tent was blown away, followed by the top of their igloo) in conditions so cold that Cherry’s teeth shattered, the trio returned with their requested emperor penguin’s egg only for it be treated with complete indifference by the Natural History Museum (“this ain’t an egg shop,” the custodian says as Cherry is left in a corridor, waiting to be given a receipt.) This an inspiring tale of failure, endurance and redemption and, although most of us will never venture into such inhospitable places, James Burt argues that Cherry’s experience has great significance in our everyday adventures. As Shackleton once wrote: “We all have our own White South.” 

Photo kindly supplied by Federation of Damanhur

Photo kindly supplied by Federation of Damanhur

Damanhur: singing plants and the world’s largest underground temple

In the foothills of the Alps, an hour’s drive north of Turin, lies the eighth wonder of the world: The Temples of Humankind. A vast underground network, equivalent in size to St Paul’s Cathedral, it boasts nine chambers, secret stairways, a labyrinth, glass music hall... oh, and a fully functioning time machine. In this illuminating talk, David Bramwell digs into the life of Falco Tarassaco (aka Oberto Airaudi) who led a spiritual community in building this genuinely astonishing architectural wonder, exploring ideas of obsession, singular ambition and what it means to create a living myth. 


Meet the speakers

David Bramwell
David is co-author of The Odditorium, creator of the bestselling Cheeky Guides and author of travel memoir The No9 Bus to Utopia, which evolved into a one man show, radio documentary and TEDx talk. David is also a Sony Award-winning presenter on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. “A remarkable storyteller.” (Radio Times). 

John Higgs
John specialises in finding unsuspected narratives hidden in obscure corners of our history and culture. His books include The KLF (“By far the best book this year, brilliant, discursive and wise,” Ben Goldacre) and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century (“An illuminating work of massive insight.” Alan Moore). 

James Burt
James is a computer programmer who researches odd subjects in his spare time. He is currently looking into ley lines and writing a book on the history of the vindaloo. He speaks regularly at events such as Brighton Fringe, Melbourne Arts Festival, Miniclick, Brighton’s Catalyst Club and Wilderness Festival. 


Buy your tickets – or win a pair!

Buxton Festival Book Weekend 2016
7.30pm, Saturday 19 November
Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton 

Tickets are £16 from the Buxton Festival website

We’re also giving away a pair of tickets together with a copy of the book. To enter, simply follow us on Twitter and retweet our Odditorium x Buxton Festival competition tweet. The winner will be announced on Monday 14 Nov.

Made to Soar

The Launch of the Wainwright X Millican Pack, inspired by legendary creator of the Lakeland guidebooks, sets hearts aflutter at Ernest HQ and has us longing for the rise and fall of the fells

The Wainwright X Millican Pack, Limited Edition, £195

The Wainwright X Millican Pack, Limited Edition, £195

“The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.” Alfred Wainwright

In A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells Alfred Wainwright detailed the hills and mountains of the Lake District, in Northwest England. From 1952, the guides were devotedly hand-produced in pen and ink over the space of 13 years. For his labour of love the 214 fells described in the seven volumes have, over time, become known as the Wainwrights.

Now, with a unique collaboration, Millican celebrates Alfred Wainwright's exceptional life. Handmade by craftsmen across the Great British Isles, the Wainwright X Millican is a rather alluring limited edition pack. Formed from an outer fabric of Halley Stevenson's 12 oz canvas, lined with a Harris Tweed from the Isle of Lewis and hand-finished with leather veg-tanned at Whitehouse Cox in Central England, it is stamped with a detailed Wainwright illustration.

It seems fitting that the hero of the fells, who caught the spirit of the land so completely - stitching together waypoints, mapping paths for a hundred generations to come and interpreting so beautifully what his footsteps absorbed - should be the inspiration for this hard-wearing, weatherproof pack, with such devoted attention to detail. With its classic ‘A’ shaped design and impressive list of features, it’s got us all affected in the Ernest office. 

  • Sam Browne closure lid with a stamped leather tongue
  • 2 external expansion pockets with storm closure, secured with a set of natural                     stained wood buttons
  • Adjustable padded shoulder straps
  • Branded metal buckles
  • Leather yokeback patch - stamped with a detailed Wainwright illustration
  • Internal padded laptop pocket (up-to 15” laptop)
  • One external bottle pocket and two internal organiser pockets

Limited edition, each batch consists of 100 bags, hand-numbered under the leather grab handle. And, like Wainwright himself, it’s been built to withstand a life on the Fells, so we can be confident it will serve us well wherever our chosen stomping ground. 

If you are anything like us, a durable comfortable pack is paramount but the Wainwright X Millican Pack appeals also to our romantic rambling soul, with its seductive design. There's space both for essential kit and for all the treasure we might find along the trail, room enough for the hoarding of mementos, for all the golden precious moments of a Wainwright-life. 

“The precious moments of life are too rare, too valuable to be forgotten when they have passed; we should hoard them as a miser hoards his gold, and bring them to light and rejoice over them often. We should all of us have a treasury of happy memories to sustain us when life is unbearably cruel, to brighten the gloom a little, to be stars shining through the darkness.” Alfred Wainwright
Surely there's no better place to hoard those precious memories from the trail?

Surely there's no better place to hoard those precious memories from the trail?

For more on the Wainwright X Millican Pack, including a link to the video Dedication to Craft, visit the site here.

For further inspiring Millican designs, including the Botanist X Millican Forager's Bag, Keith the Writer's Bag and Kelly Kettle, take a look at the rest of the online store.