Me work is a strange and gruellin’ wahn.I must brave the Thames tides, walk the path of Peggy Jones, though I know they call’d ‘er a dispicable woman!
As the tide recedes, and the fog clears, I ‘ear the screech of aquatic birds. They must be anglin’ their prey, circlin’ aroun’ for hours until the final pounce.
Me eyes follow the birds braving’ gusts on a winter morn, me profession feels right. Me children follow me; today they get to grips with mudlarkin’. Our feet thread through the shale near Blackfriar foreshore, and that mucky Thames sediment, ‘oping to find some coal that I kin sell for food.
‘Ope’s a dangerous fink! It leads wahn on, right into the Inferno’s belly. That’s ‘ow emptiness feels, ain’t it?
I thrust a sip of tonic into each of the impty stomachs .
Mudlarkin’s not lemon squeezy! For God’s sake, it’s neither discovery, nor man’s search for ‘istory. ‘N definitely not ‘is urge to connect with ‘is ansistors. I’m finking that’s pony ‘n trap!
Invigorated, after sippin’ on the tonic, I try to price out the object that’s lodged deep in Thames’ banks, a fossilised remnant of yore. A slimy layer of mud drips down as I shake it out slowly.
My eyes crowd with tears as I fink of the days last week, when I’d been circlin’ these shores- all London was asleep— the shock of me blazin’ unkempt red ‘air— bright against the gloomy skies; me petticoats caked, ‘eavy with mud; me feet callus’d by the fine shingle strewn; and me belly in the grips of sore ‘unger pangs. But not a morsel ‘ad I been able to mouf because me children were plain ‘ungry, starvin’! They’d ‘ave bitten into a livin’ animal if I wouldn’t feed ’em soon. Ah! ‘unger on dreich winter mornin’s. The winter sun sets early!
And each day I’d returned impty ‘anded to me ‘ouse in that wretched Chick Lane. Me ‘ollow-eyed children stretch their palms, starin’ at me, but nuffink cums outa me’ grimy pockets.
To silence their growlin’ bellies, I says to them, “Chile’, down sumfink, the Soothing syrup eh!”
And all nite me eyes cry themselves sore, I kinnae fetch a bite to nibble on!
But now I numb that memory, me fingers dig in, me ‘ands are chilled to the bone… the cold winter gnaws into me chapped fingers. By Gad, a piece of pottery! Me fingers get into a flurry of activity. Me euphoric scream rips the silence of the frosty late November mornin’…. Penny, Owwie, and Li’l Nell turn, they stare ecstatically. They dunna hae to filter through the dirty silt for coal. To myself, I murmur,
“Gently, go gentle, nat tae break this piece, want tae tuck some gruel, broth n’ a slice of poppy-red in our tummies tonight.“
“‘Allelujah, a bearded Bellamarine jug, worth a fortune!” I ‘old it aginst my chest and ‘ope for a slice ‘n wink of sleep in the Salvation coffin beds tonite!
The protag speaks in a mixed dialect- Scottish and Cockney. Most words are self- explanatory except for a few.
Lemon squeezy – easy
Soothing syrup- Mrs Winslow’s cure it all syrup, nicknamed a baby killer,
Poppy-red – bread
Bellarmarine jug – a Dutch stoneware jar that stored wine or beer
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