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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Wicker Man or Rattan Man

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 29, 2020

[85-365] 29th. October 2020- This is a baskety sort of post about Wicker, the Somerset Levels and Rattan, which although to you and me may look like wicker, is not.

It's a long story I won't bore you with, but in short I bought a laundry basket today, which involved a three hour drive in total, and it was meant to be wicker and ended up being rattan.

I've changed my mind. I am going to bore you with it.

It's all the fault of Covid 19. Isn't everything now. We were going to meet some old friends for lunch about half way between where we used to live and where we live now. So driving all that way to just South of Bristol we thought we would call into the Levels Basket Centre which was sort of on the way. Then last weekend our friends went into Tier Two Lockdown.

Tier Two means they are not actually imprisoned in their home like you are in Tier Three, but are allowed out as long as they don't see anyone they know, like friends. Strangers are fine, they can bump into as many strangers as they like. As long as they go out for a "substantial meal", they can go to the pub, yes a "substantial meal" is now a legal definition. It's just that nobody is sure what "substantial meal" means. Is a burger substantial? Maybe if you order salad with it , it becomes substantial? Maybe you have to have a starter and a dessert as well? Maybe you have to feel so full because you've eaten so much that the government then sends you a letter warning you about the dangers of obesity? Who knows.

Anyway, our Tier Two friends (We are Tier One, don't you know, that's like aristocracy these days) are allowed to go on holiday to a Tier One area as long as they don't socialise with anyone else they know. In fact every single person in the Tier Two area could go on holiday leaving it empty as long as they didn't bump into anyone they knew while away. I do quite like the idea of the police wandering around the Tier Two area looking for someone to fine, only to suddenly realise the whole city has gone away on holiday.

In short if you are a Tier Two sort of couple you can still go to the pub for a meal (substantial) even if there are two hundred other people you don't know in the same pub, all having "substantial meals" too. If you meet someone you do know, they cannot approach you or sit at the same table. In theory you could sit at different tables and shout across at each other, but then maybe the police would spot that you know each other. Who knows.

So being at bit at of a loose end, lunch having been cancelled, we decided that while we were still in Tier One we better live a little. So we threw caution to the Covid contaminated wind and went to basket world anyway. If we got one with a tight enough weave maybe we could just wear it on our heads instead of a mask, or just get an especially large one and live in it.

When we got to the Somerset Levels we discovered everyone had left, even though it isn't even in Tier Two. This must be the emptiest spot in England. Even basket world was empty. Just one man behind a large screen with a visor on his face, and lots of baskets.

I was tempted to ask if he stocked anything other than baskets, but I'm not sure he would have seen the funny side.

The Somerset Levels, is a Geographic area of the County of Somerset. The name says it all really. It is really level. So level in fact that when it rains heavily for an hour, hundreds of square miles end up inundated for weeks to a depth of six feet. In fact although I am exaggerating somewhat, I am also somewhat slightly accurate. It would not have been possible to take the photo below a few years back without a snorkel and the ability to hold the camera above my head. Those baskets innocently hanging below the sign would have been somewhere in the next county as wicker floats quite well.

I do like the two dimensional wicker basket on top of the sign as it would be great to sling it over your arm while wandering around your local supermarket just to see if anyone noticed it was not actually capable of holding shopping. It is also very large which means it would be absolutely hysterical.

Below is basket world and a more tempting bunch of baskets you could not wish to meet. People have lived in the levels for quite a long time, in fact for so long, I'm not even sure they qualified as people back then, they were probably more like Gibbons.

A Palaeolithic flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence in the area. The Neolithic people exploited the reed swamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways, including the world's oldest known timber trackway, the Post Track, dating from about 3800 BC. (Wikipedia)

So as you can see not much changes in the land of wicker, they've been at it, wickering away for nearly six thousand years. I'm really conjuring up an idea as I write this. Do you remember the Flintstones? Everything was carved out of rock. You could call it the Wickereeds. They've already made a wicker road according to Wickerpedia. I would have them watching wicker tellies and driving wicker cars. They could connect to the wickernet with wi-cker fi-cker. They could gobble up wicker snickers and run races in wicker sneakers. If the local flood defences ever gave way they would have wicker leaks.

You really had no idea I was going to bore you quite this much, but to be fair I did warn you.

They also have white wicker for trendy white interiors.

The Somerset Levels form a natural region that has been designated as a national character area. A National Character Area (NCA) is a natural subdivision of England based on a combination of landscape, biodiversity, geodiversity and economic activity. There are 159 National Character Areas (not all are wicker based) and they follow natural, rather than administrative, boundaries. They are defined by Natural England, the UK government's advisors on the natural environment. (Wikipedia)

This is the laundry basket below. What can I say. I thought it was wicker and after I'd paid for it I found out it was rattan. So now I own a woven liana basket to hold my smalls. It's an old world climbing palm, a liana. Did you know there were palms that climb? Not only that, I remember lianas from Geography at school. Do you remember the old Tarzan films where he screams Oooooooooooeeeeoooooeeeeeoooooo! as he swings through the trees? Well what he was swinging on was a liana, well it was meant to be a liana, but in West Hollywood they tended to use a heavy rope with leaves stuck on it. In black and white and low resolution, what we used to call blurry, they were quite convincing. But they were meant to be lianas, the explorers looking for Tarzan always had to machete their way through them as well. And at least once in every film there was a snake lying in wait on a branch.

So Tarzan was really Rattan man and he was swinging through the jungle looking cool in a very skimpy loin cloth in the case of Johnny Weissmuller, while hanging off a future laundry basket. At least he would have had somewhere for his smalls at the end of a busy day if Jane had woven him one.

And I remember one when Tarzan came across an unconvincing jungle pool , with a rubber liner just visible at the edges, surrounded with ropey lianas, where a crocodile leapt out of the water to snatch a baby deer for a "substantial meal". I think we can probably all agree a whole baby deer would be quite a "substantial meal" even without the starter or dessert. So even in Tier Two the crocodile was not really breaking any rules. Do you know, even at the age of twelve I was pretty disgusted with Tarzan for diving into the water to free the baby deer and wrestle the crocodile to death by running it through with a dagger. How judgemental I thought, to decide that a baby deer was virtuous and good while the crocodile was evil and bad and deserving of death just because it wanted a "substantial meal". That always stuck in my memory.

What you haven't noticed though is that I am inside that laundry basket. There are two holes in the bottom for my legs and if we go Tier Two anytime soon or even Tier Three I can wander around at will fully Covid proof. What police officer would risk standing up in court to defend the act of fining a liana laundry basket out on the town.

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