Mudlarks

After a half term trip to London, I consider a third change of career – or a third ‘pivot’ as those folks on social media would have us say. I am toying with the idea of becoming a mudlark- someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value.

Stay with me on this; naturally I would be a fair-weather mudlark, someone who does not mind dabbling around on a river bank if the sun is out – maybe even wearing a Dickensian costume if the mood takes me – but with a side hustle option of being a virtual mudlark when the weather turns (on these occasions I would scavenge instead through the messy underbelly of life to help people focus on the things they can still value).

Admittedly I am late to the party with this idea and kick myself for being deterred from mudlarking by taking a Dickens module at university. This is understandable, because in Dickens’ works, mudlarks were often children wading up to their waist in mud in the hunt for old rope, bone or coins. I feel that if Dickens had viewed the banks of the Thames as we did yesterday, walking up to Greenwich with the sun on our backs, then he would have been less negative about this career choice.

Yesterday, in the sunshine little banks of sand shine with a silver gleam as the Thames laps against the river banks; we stand looking over the rails musing whether it would be possible to book a morning of mudlarking in the same way that you can book a wild mushroom foraging session. Not a single child is wading waist deep in mud, although there are plenty of infants screaming for an ice cream or a go on the nearby merry go round. We do not muse about mudlarking long to be fair, for we are distracted by a pit stop at Waitrose (another omission from Dickens’ works which I blame on his fixation with water-side taverns) and a search for a public toilet.

It is only later, as we eat our lunch in Greenwich Park that we return to the topic of mudlarks. The subject of Dickens has come up again because the picnic party beside us appear to be members of the ‘Friends of Dickens Association’; the clue is in their attire. At first the gathering is small – two in costume and two in shorts and t-shirts, so we decide that the two in frock coats must be two costumed museum attendants meeting their friends on their lunch break, but then their party just keeps growing and we are forced to become voyeurs of this time capsule. Some of their costumes seem to be straddling back into the 18th Century and from a distance it feels that a rewording of the party invite could have prevented this sartorial awkwardness. Some of the party are clearly enjoying their attire just a little too much, and strut around for our amusement in breeches and riding boots with not a thought for a bottle of suntan lotion.

Scavenging to find the value in this fancy dress picnic and concerned for their likely onset of sunstroke, I seize on the opportunity to virtually mudlark; I opine that at least it would have cheered folk on the Dockland Light Railway to see Pecksniff, Pumblechook or Micawber minding the gap and dripping into their face masks on their journey to this parkfest. Just as I share these thoughts with my companions – along with more tinned G&T and a bag of crisps – I sigh with relief to see two parasols being brandished with aplomb and gallantry over the fair skinned ladies of their party. In my last piece of nosy parker people-watching before I am dragged rudely away by my daughter, I am encouraged to see a hearty meat pie, a massive hunk of bread and a big bowl of gin punch appear on the picnic mat of our neighbouring costume drama. I saw none of these things in Waitrose earlier and I am impressed with their preparation. What larks.

We walk back to the river bank and decide that the silvery mud is now looking a bit suspect and smelling a little rank in the heat. I do not want to lose face with my family – especially because they hint over lunch that if I do decide to step away from teaching, they will help with a rebrand pivot of my dormant Linked-in account, so I suggest that before buying a metal detector, I major on virtual mudlarking. I promise to stay away from water altogether and to focus on non-material things of value as we wade our way out of the Age of Corona.

While I wait for this new career to take off, I will return to the classroom tomorrow and hunt for things of worth among ‘the youth’ to keep Gavin Williamson happy. Bleak times, but I might organise an extra-curricular game of ‘Stick in the Mud’ to cheer us up; it will surely be a lark.

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