A Knight’s Tale (81: The Mudlarks)

I bought this glass cabinet which Elizabeth uses to show her collection of old glass artefacts, when I lived in Sutherland Place 2008, and passed it on to my sister when I moved in 2009.  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 not featured in my header picture.  Medicine bottles, and Mexican Hair Restorer were often blue.  We saw how the shapes of Bovril and ink bottles had changed over the years. Matthew and Becky still have some of those early spoils.

Only on one occasion, early in 1982, 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 discovered.  When 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.

The Cold War And The Three Day Week

IMG_6579Aaron began redecorating our guest bathroom this morning. The wall-hanging cabinet was a typical piece of DIY from our predecessors in that the blue protective plastic film still adhered to the item, which had been secured by just two of the required screws. Aaron took it down, I painstakingly peeled off the film that felt as if it had been fixed with the spray mount I have been using on the garden album photographs.

Plastic film 1

The sign on the back of the cabinet had been ignored.

Together, Jackie and I polished up the surfaces with Hob Brite.

The day’s warm weather was belied by the trees, tresses tossed, sashaying violently in the tempestuous winds of storm Clodagh, making it impossible for us to finish putting the rose garden to bed.

Sweet Tooth002‘The Cement Garden’ from 1978 was, I think, the first of Ian McEwan’s novels I read. It introduced me to the author’s penchant for the gruesome. For that reason I have always been rather ambivalent about this excellent writer now surely at the height of his powers. His eloquent, smooth, prose is most compelling, but his tales often grim. Nevertheless ‘Sweet Tooth’, which I finished today, is difficult to put down. For some, the period of the Cold War and the energy-saving three-day week, may cause the work to be classified as historical. I, however, was entering my fourth decade in 1972. I can therefore vouch that McEwan brilliantly encapsulates the mood of the time.

The work is not really a political or spy story. It is a love story which reflects the author’s often rather grim take on human relationships. The device of novels reported within the novel is intriguing, and cleverly done. Love him or hate him, McEwan is never boring, and always worth a read.

My one grouse is that the paper in this hardback, published by Jonathan Cape in 2012, is already turning brown.

I probably don’t need to explain The Cold War, but it may be helpful to quote Wikipedia on the three-day week, which ‘was one of several measures introduced in the United Kingdom by the Conservative Government 1970–1974 to conserve electricity, the generation of which was severely restricted owing to industrial action by coal miners. The effect was that from 1 January until 7 March 1974 commercial users of electricity were limited to three specified consecutive days’ consumption each week and prohibited from working longer hours on those days. Services deemed essential (e.g. hospitals, supermarkets and newspaper prints) were exempt.[1] Television companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30 pm during the crisis to conserve electricity.’

On 23rd September this year the Independent reported that: ‘The prospect of the three-day week returned to haunt Britain yesterday as it emerged that ministers are considering paying firms to cut hours in order to survive the recession’; and, as we near the end of 2015, trust between the East and the West is once more at a low ebb.


This evening we dined on one of Jackie’s more than just a Spanish omelette, stuffed with almost anything you could think of and topped with mature cheddar cheese. This was served with chips and baked beans, and followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. I drank Seashore Isla Negra merlot 2014.