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Saturday, July 24, 2010

MIKE HALLOWELL: Giant Eels

Some years ago I was asked to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, and look into a rather peculiar story. During my stay I went with some colleagues to the huge Lake LeMan, and took the opportunity to investigate one of the areas greatest mysteries – that of the terrible LeMan Eels.
In the thirteenth century William, Bishop of Lausanne, started to receive complaints from fishermen that they were being “troubled by eels”. Some were simply scaring the fish. Others – of an altogether larger variety - were supposedly gobbling up the fishermen.
William decided that the Devil was behind it all (he was to blame for everything in those days) and promptly carried out an exorcism.
Unfortunately the eels apparently didn’t attend and were unaware that they’d been banished to a remote part of the lake where they couldn’t cause any more trouble.
Since then, stories of the giant eels have persisted, although most modern Genevans I spoke to seemed blissfully unaware of their presence.
When we arrived at Port des Mouettes the weather was quite good. The sun was shining but I noticed with some concern that the water was pretty choppy. Still, duty called and I wasn’t going to let the Swiss see that the world’s greatest paranormal investigator was scared of the water.
I boarded the Solaris and as we pulled away from the quayside I was determined to find out if the terrible eels of Lake LeMan truly existed. Captain Cyril was very helpful. Yes, he conceded, the lake was an enchanted place, but he was a Parisian – nobly, I did not hold this against him - and although having worked the lake for years, was not immersed in the local culture enough to know too much about the eel stories.
As we headed to Port Noir, the longest leg of the journey, I kept my eyes peeled. Hoping against hope, I really wanted to catch site of something large, dark and slithery gliding through the water. It was not to be.
At Port Noir I talked to some locals.
“Yes, I’ve heard the stories”, a young man called George told me. “Do I believe them? I don’t know. One day, you know, I thought…but no; it was my imagination, I think.”
Leaving the Solaris – a fine vessel – we transferred to the older L’eau de Vive. I talked to one of the passengers, a young woman who, in a decidedly frosty manner, made it quite clear that she a) didn’t believe in the eels and b) didn’t want to feed the paranoid delusions of mad Englishmen who came to Switzerland hunting for them. True, I really was paranoid, deluded, mad and English, but surely she could have been a tad more sympathetic. Oh, well. You can’t win ‘em all, I suppose.
As the L’eau de Vive docked at Perle du Lac it dawned on me that Genevans do not seem to have the same thirst for mysteries as we do. Back at my hotel I talked to waiters, bar staff and tourists. Some had heard of the eels; others had not. Intriguingly, none seemed to have the faintest interest in finding out the truth.
“If they’re there, they’re there…” policeman Norman Gross told me.
Lake LeMan – which has borne the same name since Roman times – possesses a timeless beauty. Near the shore one occasionally sees boulders that seem to be floating bizarrely on the water’s surface. In fact they are huge rocks deposited there during the last Ice Age, and their submerged aspects trace all the way down to the bed of Lake LeMan – the lake where the terrifying eels are said to dwell.
Did I see them? No, but I wasn’t put off. If there weren't giant eels in Lake LeMan then I'd bloody well find them elsewhere.
And I did, or at least a reference to them. Ironically, they turned out to be dwelling in darkest Northumberland.
Back in 1807 – on June 21, to be precise – a resident of the village of Morrick decided that he needed some water.
"Go to the well", his missus suggested.
"Which one?"
"The one with all that wet stuff in…you know, water".
After informing his spouse that she was a complete smart-arse (he meant it in a caring, sharing sort of way) the man proceeded to the well, which was just less that six feet in depth and three feet in diameter.
So far so good. The chap lowered his bucket into the orifice and shuggied it about a bit to get the wet stuff in. Then he hauled it back up, proud of himself that he had managed to engage in such a sophisticated process so successfully. And that's where things started to go a bit shonky, as we Geordies say.
There was indeed water in the bucket, but not nearly as much as he had hoped for. Basically, the problem was all to do with the laws of physics, which dictate that when you place an object in water it will displace exactly the same amount of wet stuff as its own volume. A goodly amount of water had indeed been displaced – right over the edge of the bucket. But by what, pray? He looked again, and suddenly saw that the receptacle contained far more than H2O. There was a bloody great black thing in there, and it was moving.
The Black Thing, as it became known, was thirty-six inches in length and had a girth of seven and one-half inches. The resident of Morrick carted the Black Thing home in his bucket.
"Did you get the water?"
"Sort of, pet".
"What do you mean, 'sort of'?"
"Well, its sort of fortified, if you get what I mean…you know, like they say on them adverts: 'New improved Morrick Water – now with extra added eels!'"
His missus grabbed the Black Thing – or the Great Eel of Morrick – as it was later renamed – and slapped it on the scales.
"Bloody hell…it weighs over four pounds!"
In the absence of the Geordie Eel Police, who were busy doing other things, an investigation was instigated by the local vicar. It was established that there were no tunnels in the well that connected to any other water source. The only way the Black Thing could have got in the well was to either a) have been spawned there, or b) climbed in from the top. Neither of these struck the vicar or his fellow investigators as viable propositions.
The mystery of the Great Eel of Morrick was never solved; but at least the critter existed, unlike those diminutive, cowardy-custard, nancified types in Lake LeMan, which may or may not.
I'm going to ask my colleague and fellow Geordie investigator John Triplow – although he doesn't know it yet – to join me in an expedition to Morrick in an effort to track down the truth about the Giant Eel. Who knows, we may even find one. If we do, we'll bring back the evidence one way or another. That'll show them Genevans.…

2 comments:

Aaron T said...

I find eels fascinating, and stories of giant or gigantic eels even more so. In reality, the closer one gets to the giants the smaller they become, and I believe that the largest Anguilla anguilla on record is around 1.8m and 5kg.

Lac Leman, aka Lake Geneva has suffered greatly through pcb pollution and damming on the Rhone so I'd be surprised if there are any eels at all nowadays.

I wonder if the Burbot, still known in the lake, could be behind some of the stories - after all they do look like a large eel. Just don't eat them...

http://www.jstor.org/pss/4312839

Aaron T said...

Basically, the problem was all to do with the laws of physics, which dictate that when you place an object in water it will displace exactly the same amount of wet stuff as its own volume

Would that be the Geordie version, where everything is thicker than water? :-)