Last week I picked up a piece of old clay-pipe in a field gateway. I thought it would make the subject of my next blog-post, so I placed it on the side of the laptop and began to type. If you’ve read my previous entry, you’ll know that the pipe never featured.
If you know your bird-lore you may now be ‘picking up’ on why I wrote about magpies instead, and what that implies about the state of my coat pockets. What might not be so clear is what the clay-pipe looked like, or what I mean by ‘old’.
Since I’ve shifted back to magpies, perhaps that won’t matter. The purpose of this piece could be to tell you about how, or why, I pick up broken things that other people have thrown away. Although put like that, it does sound as if I’m just a collector of rubbish.
Let’s try for a positive spin. ‘Collector of rubbish’ suggests a strong civic conscience. Perhaps I like to tidy up litter. If that’s so, why pick up a piece of clay pipe, and how come I put it on my laptop instead of the bin? This spinning is harder than I expected, and we’re back to the composition of that pipe again.
Let me call it a shard, then. You’re taking a kinder view of my habit, aren’t you? It is, after all, a word with gravitas. You’re likely to connect it to museums and galleries, places of serious study. Perhaps I’m an amateur archaeologist, following an ambition to build up a cabinet of curiosities. *
I do like drawers and boxes. I’m not so good with labels though, still working on the one for that pipe fragment. Once we start to think about pipes, even clay ones, there are so many possibilities. I didn’t want to set out with a huge descriptive passage, but now I realise I should have done. You’ve probably already pictured it, so whatever I say will cause a fracture in the imaginative bond we’ve formed, and I can’t help feeling that the pipe is, after all, important.
What if you think it was a piece of drainage pipe? My stopping to pick up something like that would certainly affect the way you view me. It affects the way I view me, anyway.
Let’s be clear about this, the writer provides the only clues a reader has to go on, and I found my piece of pipe at the edge of a field: it’s reasonable then to assume an agricultural connection. In this area, old land-drains can be made from red or yellow clay, and you’ve yet to be told that my piece was creamy-white, or that it was small.
This is starting to feel like a series of cryptic clues. If only I’d said from the outset that I picked up a segment of old clay tobacco pipe. I could have been more precise, and told you it was the junction where the bowl meets the stem. Then, instead of meandering along this maze of suppositions, we would have reached somewhere very different by now.
* Painting: Cabinet of Curiosities by Domenico Remps (1620–1699)
Photos: Left, my pipe fragment; right, Clay pipes at Bedford Museum, photographed by Simon Speed.