Lara Maiklem is a mudlark. She can be found at low tide walking the beaches and mud of the River Thames, foraging, searching, collecting bits and pieces. And in the course of her memoir Mudlarking, she tells the history of the river. This is a personal history, not a novel.
Starting at the tidal head near Teddington and heading east to the Thames Estuary, Maiklem has written an anecdotal guide to London’s river, the treasures which can be found buried in the mud, and tells the stories of the people [real and imagined] who once lived there. From the discarded Doves Type to broken clay pipes and glass bottle stoppers, she describes the objects she has found, their place in her collection, her methods of cleaning and preserving them. Along the way she consults experts and historians and forages with fellow mudlarks who each have their favourite places, their specialist objects to collect.
‘Modern mudlarks fall into two distinct categories,’ she explains. ‘Hunters and gatherers. I am one of the latter. I find objects using just my eyes to spot what is lying on the surface. Eyes-only foragers like me generally enjoy the searching as much as the finding, and derive pleasure from the simplest of objects: an unusually shaped stone, a colourful shard of pottery or a random blob of lead. There is an element of meditation to what we do, and as far as I’m concerned the time I spend looing is as important if not more so, that the objects I take home with me.’
At times the pace seemed a little slow – lots of descriptions of mud – but the nature of mudlarking itself is slow and contemplative. I enjoyed the insights into the river’s history, the anecdotes and fascinating detail not normally heard. A book to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
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