One of my favourite guest blogs is that of Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in January's On the Track, where he won my ever-lasting admiration by recognising Surabaya Johnny by the ever lovely Marianne Faithfull. He also went on the lash with Shane McGowan back in his student days, and is obviously a very fine fellow....
R. Taylor, The Wonders of Nature and Art, 1780
“Some time ago in the last century, the farmers near Yeovil, whose fields lay contiguous to the river, suffered greatly by losing vast quantities of hay; for which several people were taken up on suspicion of stealing the same; what added to the surprise of everyone was, that the hay missing did not appear to be cut, as it usually is, but pulled out as if by some beast, but that appeared a little improbable, as several loads were lost in the space of a few nights; a circumstance so alarming to the farmers induced them to offer a considerable reward to any who should discover how their hay was destroyed.
A company of soldiers quartered then at Yeovil, some of them for the sake of the reward, undertook to find out the affair. They made their intention known to the people injured, who readily accepted their offer; and a night was fixed on, to begin their watching, in order to make a discovery. The appointed time came, and a dozen of the soldiers after eating and drinking plentifully at the respective farmer’s houses, went on their new enterprise with bayonets fixed, and muskets charged, as if going to engage an enemy. They had not been long in ambush before one of them espied a monstrous creature, crawling from the side of the river, towards one of the stacks of hay; he instantly told his comrades. A council was immediately called, and they all unanimously agreed, if the bear devoured any of the hay, that two of them should get behind the stack, and fire at it, while the others dispersed themselves at different parts of the field, in order to intercept it, if it escaped their comrades vigilance; but the precaution was needless, for the soldiers fired their pieces with such dexterity that they soon laid the monster sprawling. This done all ran to see what was slain; but the moon not shining very bright, their curiosity could not be satisfied; though some of them said it must be the devil, in the shape of a snake. Highly pleased with this exploit, they hastened to the farmers and made known how well they had succeeded in their enterprise.
Next morning all the neighbours round, with the farmers, their servants, and the soldiers, went to see this amazing creature, and to their no small astonishment, found it to be a prodigious eel, which, it is supposed, not finding subsistence in the river, came out (ox-like) and fed on the hay. It’s size was such, that the farmers ordered their men to go out and harness eight of their best horses, in order to draw it to one of their houses, which with difficulty they did. When they got it home, the soldiers desired leave to roast it, there being a large kitchen with two fireplaces. This request was granted; and after cutting it in several pieces, fastening each piece to a young elm tree, by way of a spit, they put it down to roast. It had not been above an hour before the fire, until there was as much fat run out of it, as filled all the tubs, kettles, &c., in the house, which put them under the necessity of going out to borrow; but at their return they found the inundation of grease so prodigious, that it was running out of the keyhole and crevices of the door.”
Quoted in Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, selected and introduced by Jeremy Paxman, Michael Joseph 1994