Thursday 28 June 2012: Figs and foxes, cocoanuts and currants
It was raining again in Pembrokeshire but sunny 15 miles away in Cardigan town.
A new "agricultural and maritime museum" has just opened, absorbing some of the items from the heritage centre that's now closed. These boards date back to Cardigan's glory days as a maritime trading hub, in the age of sail before road and rail transport took precedence and the river silted up. At one time Cardigan was a busier port than Cardiff and its exports included emigrants to the New World.
There's a lot that's curious in this list of harbour tolls which range from 10 shillings to bring in a four-wheeled carriage to one eighth of a penny for 'barley meal sharps'.
For example: 4d. to import a fox - but who would want to? French plums - what was special about them? Why was clover seed not taxed? Feathers must have been used to make mattresses, hemp for rope-making, salt for curing. Butt pipes had no salacious overtones then - they were for drawing liquor from a barrel.
Look how precise were the words for the weights and measures: tons, hundredweights and bushels; chests of tea and oranges, casks of butter and sugar, eggs and herrings by the hundred.
Treacle, tobacco and indigo - they sound romantic but these things constituted the essentials of rural and small town life in the late 19th century. I'm reminded of learning John Masefield's poem Cargoes, that classroom classic with the escalating rhythm perfect for group recitation - anyone else?
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.