Mudlarking

On this, the first hot summer’s day we have enjoyed this year, we gardened all day.  I had an unfortunate hiatus of about two hours during which I vainly tried to get my printer to produce the right colours in a print I was attempting to make of the picture of Harriet featuring in yesterday’s post.  I needed to get back to digging to work out my frustration.  If I know the equipment is at fault, I can cope with it.  If I am the problem I can live with it.  If I don’t know which it is it does my head in.

Jackie focussed on planting, and Elizabeth and I on clearing an overgrown area and re-discovering a lost bed.  One result of this year’s weeding and pruning has been exposing paths through the cruciform pergola.  We are now hoping to position features  visible through these walkways from different parts of the garden.  The bench containing plants ready for their final homes, somewhat blighted by the washing cradle in the background, gives some idea.

One of Geoff’s garden sculptures, now clearly visible, generously provides a feeture at the opposite end of this section.  The unobtrusive boundary fence mentioned yesterday is about to be stamped on.

Especially on a day like this, showers for the workers are necessary, as is frequent washing of hands in order to partake of drinks and snacks.  This involves visits to the bathroom, which contains a glass cabinet which Elizabeth uses to show her collection of old glass artifacts.  Not shown in the header picture is the Victorian ceramic cold cream pot, complete with lid.  It is mainly this which, every time I see this display takes me back to the days of The Mudlarks. No, not the pop vocal group of the 50s and 60s.  Us.  The early 1980s were our mudlarking years. Strictly speaking I think mudlarking is confined to activity on the Thames.  Scavengers would, in Victorian times, and probably long before, search at low tide for anything valuable that may have been dropped in the river.  Waterside  taverns provided rich pickings.  When Matthew and Becky were small  I would take them off to a site near the river at Kingston.  This wasn’t actually on the riverside.  It was a patch of land, owned by the Council, which was about to be built on.  It covered the site of a Victorian midden, or rubbish dump.  We, and some other enthusiasts were given permission to dig here for lost treasure.  The only proviso was that we must fill in our hole when we had ransacked it.  Except for John, we all found the returning of the soil pretty tough after having dug it all out.

John was a small, wiry,  immensely strong Jack Russell of a man who would grab a shovel, get stuck in, and disappear down his hole sending up showers of earth like a terrier down a foxhole.  John’s bag would be full of finds while I was still thinking about it.  His hole would be filled in before mine had been dug.  For a time this was wonderfully exciting family entertainment.  We found lots of stone beer bottles and hot water bottles, marked with the names of brewers and manufacturers long since part of history.  Most prized by the children were the lozenge-shaped lemonade containers with marbles in their necks.  The fizz would force these glass balls to seal the bottles.  We did not find many complete ones because Mat and Becky’s Victorian predecessors had already had the marbles.  And, of course, we found little ceramic pots like the one in the photograph.  Medicine bottles, and Mexican Hair Restorer were often blue.  We saw how the shapes of Bovril and ink bottles had changed over the years.  I am looking at a James Keiller & Sons Dundee Marmalade pot from that era as I type, and Matthew and Becky still have some of those early spoils.

Only on one occasion did we go mudlarking in the true sense of the word.  If you dig a hole  on the side of the Thames it is even more imperative to fill it in.  Sometimes people avoid this process and allow the action of the tide to do it for them.  Then you get a quagmire.  As we found out.  We went hunting below a waterside pub.  All we managed to find was a few ox’s jawbones and teeth, and heaps of oyster shells.  No gold coins, nor even silver ones.  When we decided the tide would soon be coming in we made for the safety of the embankment.  Jessica, pregnant with Louisa, went striding off in her billowing Monsoon skirt and green wellies.  And disappeared.  She was in a quagmire.  With great difficulty, I fished her out.  I suppose you could say that was our only successful find that day.

Jackie decided at one point this afternoon to take a break, sit on a garden chair, and survey the scene.  She was joined by this little chap who flew down a sat on her knee.  Thereafter he was quite fearless in his foremanship.

Rather late in the evening we sat down to a meal of chicken in barbecue sauce, cooked in the oven. Why anyone would ever want to cook outside, over a grill most difficult to keep alight and smelling unpleasant when they could use kitchen equipment, I will never know.  Elizabeth and I drank Gran Familia Las Primas  2011, and Jackie had the Coop’s French Lager.  Whilst eating Jackie’s fluffy and tasty bread and butter pudding, we reminisced about Dad’s bread pudding . The only dish Dad ever produced was a real command performance.  We never knew what he would put in it.  Probably neither did he.  Elizabeth and I decided that the year it was inedible was when  he applied a liberal sprinkling of Galloway’s Cough Syrup.  Elizabeth is convinced that one year Mum prevented him from adding boot polish.  This surely has to be apocryphal.  But just in case it isn’t I’m not asking Mum.

10 thoughts on “Mudlarking

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  4. I enjoyed reading this a great deal and wished I was mudlarking too. When I was in London for a month and walking with a group I noticed on their programme that you could do these treasure hunts with them; I don’t know why I didn’t go. Maybe they made it sound dangerous; as you found out.

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  8. How wonderful, Derrick! The way you wrote this made me feel like I was there, too. And I enjoyed reading about John and his digging. 🙂 AND the little bird taking a break with Jackie! How sweet! 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

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