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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Keyless in St. Katherine's

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas DECEMBER. 05, 2020

[121-365] 4th. December 2020- Sleepless in Seattle this is not, it's just a story of a day that went wrong. But what happens when your day goes wrong? You make the best of what turns up and enjoy the unexpected.

That is how we ended up keyless in St. Katherines Way, Totnes, which led to us ending up in Sutton Harbour Plymouth by lunchtime.

According to wikipedia, although apparently it's founder thinks it may have lost it's way, the earliest known lock and key device was discovered in the ruins of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria. Locks such as this were later developed into the Egyptian wooden pin lock, which consisted of a bolt, door fixture or attachment, and key. Nineveh was the largest city in the world for approximately fifty years until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked by a coalition of its former subject peoples including the Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians.

This is also one of the earliest known populist uprisings against the Elites. Today it is just a large lump of rubble on the outskirts of Mosul in Iraq, so be warned leaders of the world. I'm not sure if all this happened because their locks were not very secure or not. Did all the sacking by the populist hordes occur because they had a key to the front door or were they just good at picking locks. At any rate that was then and this is now, 2632 years later when you might have expected that humanity would have perfected the concept of a useful, secure and reliable lock and key.

OK, I grant you we do have comfy cars that have many features that would have left Ninevehnians awe struck, but even they would have thought it was hilarious that we had live maps beamed down by satellites 12,500 miles above us travelling at a speed of 3.88 km/s. That is per second, so it's already 2072 Km further away than when I started writing this rubbish, and yet when I park up in St. Katherine's Way in Totnes with the idea I might go to the market to buy a Christmas Wreath, locally made, by local artisans, because this is my first chance to go to Totnes market in a month because of lockdown, thinking that I might be able to lock said car with confidence and that it might start again when I return with said Christmas Wreath, I find the key doesn't work because the tiny cheap useless battery hidden inside has given up the ghost with no expectation that I can even get back home, let alone use some of the time I have just bought on the stupid parking App connected to the same stupid satellite that is now over Ottawa heading rapidly to Hawaii. I'm not even going to try to explain parking Apps to my Ninevehnian friend who is now rolling around on the cold cracked stony pavement with tears emerging from his lachrymal glands. (I just like the word lachrymal, which concerns itself with weeping and tears. There is a famous wine called Lacrima Christi, literally the tears of Christ which is made by Neapolitans with grapes grown on the slopes of Vesuvius)

Luckily the car wasn't locked, so that we could at least retrieve the 18 volumes of instructions from the glove compartment (why do we still have compartments for gloves?) that explain what you have to do in the likely event that the tiny cheap useless battery breathes it's last. The solution is so high tech and complicated you won't actually believe it. You will assume that I am exaggerating as usual or worse just making stuff up which I confess I do sometimes do for comedic effect. But to be fair I normally confess my sins after I have got the cheap laughs. No, it actually instructs you to place the useless key next to the key sensor on the steering column and hold it there, (that's it) this seems to be based on the meagre hope that there might just be a final twitch left in the corpse of the tiny cheap useless battery, while we presumably pray to St Katherine whose Way we are in the way of, who I had hoped was going to be the Patron Saint of Locksmiths but turns out to be the Patron Saint of Philosophers and Scholars, so completely useless in this case. I don't really want some bearded old crone at this point theorising about the meaning of life, when I am stuck in a car park thirty miles from home, with my legs crossed because it is so cold.

Maybe praying to Katherine worked because like in those movies where the audience are just starting to grieve, when the dead pet/hero/child in that order of preference suddenly takes a gulp of air and rises from their repose, the car actually burst into life. Great says I, now we can go and get the Christmas Wreath, but alas no. It says in the car Bible that you only get one chance in life and you have to make the most of that chance, it's like a parable, The Parable of the Keyless Entry Fob, car starts and you have to go home where the spare key lives, because it will not starteth a second time. And that is today's lesson.

So thirty miles home to get a second key which also has a tiny cheap useless battery that currently still works so we could drive thirty miles in the opposite direction to the service centre in Plymouth. So change of plan, forget Totnes Market and wreaths. Here is wonderful Plymouth. And here is the "Giant Prawn".

But it isn't a prawn I hear you all shout. No, it is public art which in Britain means think of an object and make it thirty three feet high in this case, so that the public can scoff at it and give it a silly nickname.

It is actually "The Leviathan" and for once I think as public art it probably works. It has a cormorant’s feet, a plesiosaurus’s tail, the fin of a John Dory, a lobster’s claws and the head of an angler fish. So in actual fact, it is no-parts prawn. It is a Giant Non-Prawn. Various people who know about art, were part of a backlash against the Non-Prawn when it was suggested it might adorn the harbour entrance and variously described it as “tacky”, “daft”, and “an insult to modern art” (As if it was possible to insult Modern Art when many would say Modern Art is the insult), while Plymouth Arts Centre hated it so much its then chairman, Francis Mallet, said: “The Great Prawn is most offensive and should be scrapped. “It's totally tacky and looks like it has come out of a garden centre. It isn't art.” "The Great Prawn is most offensive?" Where did he think he was? A Shakespeare Play?

The late Robert Lenkiewicz said: “It distracts the eye from something that is infinitely enjoyable.” Wait till you see art made by Robert Lenkiewicz, who being late already can't sue me.

This of course was a sure-fire way to ensure everyone else loved it, the people were getting restless again. Hands off the Non-Prawn if you don't want the city sacked.

Here is the entrance to the harbour that it guards. It is an actual working fishing harbour. Sutton Harbour is Plymouth's historic heart. Together with the Barbican it is home to some of the oldest buildings and most historic events of the city. Around the Barbican cobbled streets, narrow lanes and more than 200 listed buildings abound. Over sixty tons of fish are landed here daily making Plymouth Fish Market the second largest by volume in England. And that is before they weigh in that 33 feet high Giant Non-Prawn.

Outside the Sea Life Centre there are small shoals of fish everywhere you walk. The Sea Life Centre is next door to the Fish Market and is different only in the fact that it's fish are still alive and swimming, albeit in large plexiglass tanks. The ones next door are definitely not swimming but are headed to a batter dip and plate near where you live.

Next to the Giant Non-Prawn is the Mayflower Memorial and all around it has broken out a rash of plaques memorialising many different historic events that have occurred on or near this spot. I don't think I have seen such a large and diverse quantity of memorial plaques in such a confined space ever. The Queen of course, either left from here or arrived here, I can't remember which. That woman is the cause of more plaques than any human who ever lived.

This plain looking sign below was funded by local Trades Unions in 1956 and memorialises the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It's an unlikely title for a plaque.

Tolpuddle is a village in Dorset and the martyrs were six agricultural workers who committed the grave crime of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Translation- They tried to form a Trades Union.

We are back to the Elites again who got a tad nervous when our close neighbours over the channel started chopping off peoples heads. So to counter populist uprisings like the French were currently having a bash at, Parliament had a debate and they said well, we can treat people nicely or we can carry on treating them badly and make it illegal to complain. Guess which way they went? They came up with laws against getting together with your mates to down tools when you were seriously cheesed off.

The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 outlawed "combining" or organising to gain better working conditions. The penalty was seven years penal transportation to Australia. Now today people might scoff at the idea of being sent to Australia for seven years as any sort of punishment, especially if you love charred meat cooked over flames, but back then it was often a death sentence. The journey alone killed many and heavy labour awaited those who survived when they did arrive.

It seems tasteless to insert a joke here so let's go for it. A British potential migrant in 2020 pops along to the Australian High Commission in London to have the entrance exam and interview. The official is asking him all the routine questions and gets to the part about personal character.

Official- "Have you got a criminal record?"

British potential migrant who thinks he is really funny- "I didn't think you needed one these days"

Official- Stamps application with large "Rejected and Unamused".

A huge national campaign against the injustice of the sentence started back in Britain and a remarkable 800,000 signatures calling for their pardon were collected. They were pardoned in March 1836. (It was that or a populist uprising) News did not travel fast back then as it could take anywhere up to five months to travel back and fore to Australia. Four of the six arrived back in Plymouth in 1838, as I say news did not travel fast, this plaque commemorates their return. The fifth was delayed as he was up on an assault charge and the sixth returned and later died in the Dorchester Workhouse. The five who survived their trip back to England later emigrated to Canada.

This is the Mayflower Memorial. I have said plenty about the Mayflower already recently.

So after our unexpected day out to Plymouth I finish with a shot of the famous Plymouth Gin distillery in the Barbican. To complete the key theme, sort of, when we arrived at Lockyers Quay to park, you needed a stupid App to do it, so we went from keys to quays and at both ends of the journey we needed a stupid parking App to park. I now have five different parking Apps on my phone all of which depend on my phone having a reliable battery, I fear more trouble ahead.

The Plymouth Distillery is the oldest working distillery in England. It has been making Plymouth Gin according to the original recipe since 1793. The building dates back to the early 1400s, with the most intact part of the distillery, the Refectory Room - a medieval hall with a fine hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431, being one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth. It is thus protected as a national monument and is one of the city's most precious heritages.

The Pilgrim Fathers even spent their last night in England here in 1620. It was from the distillery they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail on the Mayflower on their epic voyage to start a new life in America, where they founded a new Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin's trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a 'mault-house' on the premises going back to 1697. (

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