Wednesday, 24 April 2013

gone mudlarking

(I have a new plan for my blogs, by the way, which is hopefully going to increase their frequency: 
1) Keep the text to around 500 words instead of my usual 2000+ ...
2) Lots of pictures
Let's see if it works ...)

Mudlarking (which is, as the word implies, larking about in mud - or muddy sand, anyway) has a long and colourful history, especially on the banks of great tidal rivers like the Thames. The incomparable Victorian social historian Henry Mayhew writes about them, and I vividly remember reading a book about a young London lad who becomes apprenticed to a tosher (a sewer scavenger) when I was a kid, and finding loads of treasures - though not so vividly that I can recall the title, alas. It was a great book.

There's something flaneurish and something treasurehunty about mudlarking, so naturally when I got an email from Southwark Arts Forum advertsing a "mudlarking and making" event in connection with their forthcoming Curious Exchange exhibition, I signed the hell up, and even dragged my sister along.
Would you Adam 'n' Eve it?
It was a beautiful sunny day. (SPRING! YES!) and we happened to wander past a pub BBQ in honour of the London Marathon, so Bex had a hotdog-inna-bun.

We were meant to be meeting the organisers (an artist called Jane and London storyteller Vanessa Woolf, whose Southwark-based story The Player Liars' League published yonks ago) at the Angel pub (below) at 3.15 but we were insanely early, so we had a drink and took some photos.

North Bank skyline

The Angel Pub
View from pub terrace

Picturesque signpost

Then everyone else turned up and we set about this business they call mudlarking ...

L-R: some guys, a girl, Vanessa, Jane, unlucky woman standing behind Bex, Bex.
We tromped down to the shore for a little talk beforehand - I thought we'd probably hear a bit of social or geographical history of the Thames or the area, but instead Vanessa (who I imagine does this kind of workshop a lot with kids) told us a morality fable about robber kings who abused their river by throwing lots of crap in it. The underlying message is of course not to drop your own boring old modern litter while searching for historical trash. Also, NO DIGGING EVER.

"Gather round ..."
Vanessa telling the hell out of her story
So once we'd been warned about Weil's Disease and issued with latex gloves and plastic bags, we set to beachcombing. We only had about 15 minutes before we had to scamper back to Jane with our hauls, but in that time one of the others (who had done it before, managed to find TWO clay pipe bowls (one bearing a royal crest!) while I brought back ... er ... a shitload of bones.

The brown bullety looking thing is the royal pipe - you can see the unicorn device if you look hard

Gonna make me a MAN!
(I had an idea of making a sort of little fetish figure out of my bones, cos loads had holes in and some were very slender, but after a frustrating hour in the bathroom when my figures kept falling apart, I chucked them.)
My non-mammalian haul

These metal things, though ... they might make something. (The idea was to create some sort of object for the Curious Exchange out of what we found). A very dangerous child's mobile, perhaps?

Bex's finds, arranged rather more pleasingly than mine. She also found tons of bones.
More larking!
My second haul. Particularly proud of the tea tin, and sad to have to leave the brick behind - I love its graduated colours.
Now what in the holy name of Tamesis was I going to make out of this lot?

Can you guess what it is yet?
Well, can you? As you can see (maybe) I've taken the rusted metal lattice from Haul 2 and used it as a base for the metal levery thing, the rusted disc, and the ???? sparkplugs?? or something??? from Haul 1 (and some silver picture wire) to create a ... um, a ...

... well, it's obviously a ...

 ... wonky ... post-apocalyptic ... sundial?

Yes, well, anyway, the main thing is that we had fun :)

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