Eels...I don't much care for eels, not that I've ever been closely acquainted with one. There used to be eel and pie shops on the corners of the back streets when I worked in the Birmingham slums...one man had live eels writhing about in a tray in the window of his shop...there was sawdust on the floor and one of the people who lived nearby said he'd put that down so if an eel escaped it wouldn't be able to slither across the sawdust...

He just had a counter with a wooden board on it and a big tin bucket underneath 'cos if you wanted to buy some eel for supper you chose one out of the tray and he lopped it's head off which fell into the bucket...then he'd chop the body into pieces and wrap it in newspaper for you...I know, because I watched him once.

But prior to working in the Birmingham slums, I'd been to College, where we had a particularly avant guarde English lecturer who made us stand in front of our group once a week and give a lecture on a subject he'd chosen...and mine was eels. We had to speak for twenty minutes and actually I'd rather have stuck pins in my eyes...

My in-laws at the time, lived on the bank of the river Severn where small boys would congregate during the summer holidays with a bucket borrowed from their mothers to catch the eels as they swam past on their way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn...they'd call you over to admire their catch...little eels and huge eels and middle-sized eels all frantically trying to escape from a plastic bucket...they'd get a fit of the giggles if you shuddered and used to assure me they'd put them back in the river when it was time to go home...honest.

The only time I'd ever heard of the Sargasso sea was the novel The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which has nothing to do with eels at all...

But eels are far from only being wriggling, writhing snakey creatures that have their heads chopped off by men in back street shops or caught by small boys to wile away an afternoon...when they reach sexual maturity, they swim down rivers and across lakes until they reach the Sargasso sea which isn't a sea at all but a part of the Atlantic Ocean. There they gather together to spawn...and once they've spawned they die, to make way for the next generation of eels who...as elvers...make the return journey to the rivers and the lakes from which their parents came...

Eels and Elvers have been a staple part of human diet for a long time. Elvers were favoured by the Tudors who used to serve them drenched in butter with toasted breadcrumbs and the people who hunted on the foreshores of the river Thames for shellfish regarded them as an essential foodstuff...the Romans served Elvers at feasts...eventually, through time, they were no longer the food for the rich but the food for those who were poor. The Eel and Pie shops in the backstreets of the major cities in England did the same kind of a trade on a Saturday night as fish and chip shops do nowadays...they were cheap and a few steaks of eel would feed a big family...bought already cooked with a pastry lid and plenty of onions...it was still an inexpensive way to give your family a hot supper.

I've never eaten Eel...and I've never seen it for sale here in Ireland either. I rather think it is a food I'd prefer not to eat...like shellfish, who's innards remind me of snot.