I was over the far side of the woods today when I found an old plastic drinks bottle. It was really annoying. Even though I knew I couldn’t just leave it there, I wasn’t particularly happy about carrying it all the way back. So to make it less of a chore, I thought I’d treat it like the bottle was somebody famous, being interviewed & photographed for a celebrity magazine.

– o O o –

OK (recycle) magazine


November issue

P1190950Life’s hectic. You just get handed round. Everyone wants you and it’s hard to say no, y’know? Sometimes it gets too much. You feel like blowing your cap, tearing off your labels and your price tags and shouting ‘I’m just a bottle! Leave me alone!’
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. It gives me a real fizz. But I’m no different to any other soft drinks container. I crave the normal things. Lying around doing nothing. Listening to the birds. The rain. Listening to ME! It’s so important to drop out, now and again. To leave all that baggage behind, get away from the hype and the fuss. All the additives. Sometimes I’ve just got to get back to nature or I’ll lose my bubble.

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Despite what you see in the adverts I’m actually an introvert. I need my alone time or I get a little flat. Start acting all cokey.

You want to know my favourite thing? Sometimes I put a spiky wig on and just hang out on a log. See what happens. See who blows by. You’d be surprised. Once you’ve shrugged off all those labels – y’know? – all the marketing razzmatazz – we’re all the same. We’re all just plastic, yeah?

P1190905I love these mushrooms. You like these mushrooms? Are they mushrooms? Or toadstools? What’s the difference? What’s in a label, anyway? Things are things. It rains, they grow. They die. Shit happens. Two things I want to do with my life before I get recycled. One is to go back to school so I can learn about the natural world, the REAL word. So I could point at these weird, funnelly little things and say: Here they are! The – I don’t know – the Spongy Breakfast Bowls or whatever. That’s what I love about mushrooms. They’ve got such funny names. Scary names, some of them. Old Horrible Smelly Skull. Stinking Goat’s Bits. I don’t know. I just made them up. I’ve got such an imagination. People think I’m mad but it’s just ideas and you shouldn’t be scared of them.

P1190956One thing I’ve really gotta do is write a kid’s book. I could do one based on mushrooms. It’d be like this funny little mushroom family, living in an old log or something. And the dad would be all like: Hey little Billy Mushroom. Where d’you think YOU’RE going? And Billy mushroom would be all like: Oh, I don’t know, dad – an ADVENTURE, I guess! And then he’d be off having it! Something with a crow, maybe. I like crows. They’re quite goth, aren’t they? I’ve already sketched some designs for a lunchbox and a pencil case. You know – the tie-ins. I’ve got a talent for it. That and colouring.

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I’m quite a natural country kind of person when it comes down to it. Some people get anxious when they think of badgers and foxes and things, but I don’t – I feel properly at home in the woods. More than that – it’s like my religion. For me, a walk in the woods is like a walk in a cathedral. Where the trees are the arches, yeah? And the falling leaves are like the leaves of the holy bible drifting down from heaven. And the dog walkers are the priests, and the birds are the choir. That’s definitely going in the book. It’s pretty much writing itself. That’s another thing the woods are good for – thinking out new ideas. My only problem is remembering them all!

 

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My best mate’s a lucozade bottle. She’s quite sporty – not like me! We hang out together a lot. Just sit together in silence, mostly. She knows what it’s like. Left on the shelf, you think it’s all over, snatched off, shaken up. Tossed aside. We’ve seen some times, Lucie and me. But that’s the thing about friends. You don’t have to prove anything, pretend to be something you’re not.

Sometimes it’s enough to just sit in a tree and breathe.

 

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return to el crapado

There are two places everyone should visit regularly to get modern life in perspective. One is a museum, the other’s a dump.

IMG_8087Especially an old dump. There’s something haunting about this profligate scattering of old paste jars, fragments of pottery with words like award-winning, warmest and proven treatment; something resolute yet pathetic about that old tin bucket with its handle still up, or that chunk of iron machinery with the cogs fixed by rust. And there’s definitely something deluded about that grinning porcelain cat.

My mission today is not to get the world and its problems in perspective, though. I’m simply here to collect as many old Shippam’s paste jars as I can, so we can use them as candle holders.

IMG_8117It’s another craft experiment. Fad wouldn’t be too harsh. For one thing, I’ve never made candles before. For another, I’m not sure the necks will be wide enough. They’ll probably explode when the wick burns down. But it’s worth a go. There’s something pleasing about these little ribbed pots, with their embossed name across the middle like they’ve just won first prize in the paste pageant. I can imagine them in the middle of a table, scented with an essential oil. And it feels good to do some independent recycling, some re-purposing. I want to prove to them – and to me – that all the fuss of that production process in the fifties, from the fishing fleet to the glass factory, the packaging plant to the vans driving up and down the country – that great and energy consuming enterprise could lead to something more than just a limp sandwich on a soggy Saturday afternoon, and then seventy years in a dump.

There must have been a lot of sandwiches, because these paste bottles are everywhere. It’s like a paste bottle plague, lying around in large numbers on the surface, along with bigger, more alluring bottles, Lung Tonic, Sanival, Califig, and look! The leg from an old bisque doll.

I’ve gone prepared with a messenger bag and gardening gloves. (I’d thought about taking a trowel, too, but it would only have slowed me down.) As it is, I fill the bag in five minutes.

Back home, the jars washed and drying by the side of the sink, I go online to look up the whole Shippam’s paste phenomenon. There’s archive footage of the factory in Chichester, shot in 1954. Hundreds of women in white coats and hats, folding boxes, filling jars with a nozzle, packing jars, putting boxes of jars onto a conveyor belt. The voiceover is typical of the time – glassy, patrician, describing the whole procedure over a jaunty soundtrack, as if what we’re witnessing isn’t simply the production of sandwich paste, but the maintenance of the British Empire, the production of the grouting needed for all the building work, the salmon-flavoured gack to keep us all in the pink.

There are two chilling sequences.

One brand of paste is made from chickens, because we’re shown pyramid stacks of wishbones on the benches either side of the entrance. Some visitors are ushered through. We’re not told who they are. The last of them looks quite old and confused, happy to be going out somewhere – anywhere – even to a warehouse of death. For all we know this is Shippam R&D and these people are a trial ingredient. The commentator picks up the story:

‘…a feature of the factory which always appeals to visitors is the great pile of wishbones. There must be a quarter of a million of them, and twelve hundred new bones come in every day, so anyone who calls can take away a good luck token.’

Two points to be made here:
1. Why did they bring in so many bones? If they’re serious about handing out wishbones to visitors, wouldn’t a small tray suffice? Or do they have that many visitors?
2. It wasn’t such good luck for the chicken.

In the next sequence we’re introduced to one of the supervisors, a man who looks like he’s been fashioned with a palette knife out of crab paste:

‘Packing and despatch to all parts of the globe is under the guidance of Mr Twobit. He started work here 48 years ago, packing tongue. Now he has a grown up daughter in the factory.’

I don’t know what’s more unsettling. The thought of Mr Twobit packing tongue, or the thought of his daughter working there.

Still, a happy by-product of two hundred years of industrial sandwich paste making in the south east is me, scrambling around on this dump in a pair of green gardening gloves and a messenger bag filled with dirty paste jars.

I wonder what the commentator would say about that.

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