Sunday, October 30, 2016

MUDLARKING ON THE THAMES (solace from the city)


Bones of dead Londoners fill the banks of the Thames


A brief reflection on life in London: places of solace you can find where you might not expect them. (from a work in progress)
Under the the gleam of The Shard, lines of chatty, card-qualified Mudlarkers, decked out in their waterproofs, trudge up and down the beach line of the Thames, scraping at the ground for bits of tooth, shell, porcelain plates, clay pipes whatever they can find. Many days I retreat there to get away from the rush of London: Shard, Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater up in minutes it seems, people scurrying like insects across London Bridge. Lately I am bunking off some temp job, lowering myself down onto the beach, fixated by buttons which are rusted out and nearly completely disintegrated in my hands. There is a kind of weird solace, as if the place still has a tiny shard of the placidity it once had in Prehistoric times and seems, oddly comic too. Couples peer over the banks of the Thames pathway, some sitting up there sunning themselves; a couple of gay men, immersed in their world, intently lean forwards, balds heads almost touching;  they hardly notice when I climb up the ladder, three rungs at a time, into their conversation, underneath Millennium Bridge. I am burying myself in this ritual the last few days of the summer of 2011, while looking over nearly every type of drenched and saturated human bone and animal bone that there can be: clavicles, ulnas, spines and so on; hiding under my hood like Obi Wan, it is not long before some spotty kid comes along the beachline
says:
  'Ullo, found anything?'
He must be experienced because – and this happens when you are down there, lost in the forensic examinations – you saw him coming  and you are looking for a reprieve from  the people zooming;  still he managed to get into your space; you think how can you simply smile and ignore him? It is a bit like being a teacher trying to finish up some marking and a kid wants to tell you about their pet scorpion. Sir, Sir, Sir!
You you feel a little glimmer of kinship; he is shuffling along with his glasses and nondescript jacket,
'Anything nice there?'
 You are jack-knifed on the ground, in his eyes you are shielding yourself from intrusion reclining almost on the beach, as if a day out with friends having a picnic. You might even be, as your father says, a lucky sod!
'Well this place has been picked clean,' the young lad says, 'I can tell you now, won’t find much in here, mind, though,' he says, 'I can show you this...' and he pulls out a tiny bit of metal, which looks like a farthing, or ha penny bit.
'What is it?' You ask.
 'It is a fifteen-century counter for counting out weight and measurements. It is not even silver or copper, never mind gold, but brass.' He is keen and he is casting a shadow right over this little washer sized slip of metal.

'Are you a geologist?'  you ask and he says, 'No, but I’m studying to be an archaeologist.'
 You say 'That would be a job for me.' (Lets face it, you’d never find a roman coin on the banks of the rivers back in Nova Scotia, maybe an arrow head or a dinosaur bone but no belt buckle or ornate stuff like that).
You take time to reflect with this keen kid,
'What a great burden on you to see all those bones, just laying there, washed from some grave somewhere, and then all that talk of raw sewage and disease and so on.'
 You ask him if he had a job for the summer and you remember what it was like trying to find one, when you were at school and that having a job meant that you had money for gas and could also afford to take a girl out on a date and feel so much more some kind of useful then, and so you say,
 'I was at University once, myself,' he says 'Oh?'  but then you bury his academic querying by telling him that you used to go around with a rock and roll band quite a bit when younger.
'Which one?' he asks and you say:  'Kings College' because you are not in a great rush, and he says 'Oh? Uh London?' and you say a little briskly, 'No,  one in Canada - they are all over the world.'

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