Tuesday 3 December 2013

There's hole at the bottom of my garden… by Eve Edwards

I'm living with the builders at the moment.  A medium-sized extension on the side of our house appears to demand a foundation hole the size of an Australian open cast mine.  What is fascinating, however, is seeing the layers stripped away in the garden - first the top soil, then the layers of sand and light gravel deposited by the nearby Thames over the centuries (yes, Bible scholars, I live in a house literally built on sand).  I asked the chap this morning if he had found any buried treasure.  Only a few coins, he replied.  What was more exciting than a couple of old pennies was discovering the bricked up coal hole that I had no idea was in the side of the house and seeing how the utilities connected up.  The old gas pipe had a bright blue (and reassuring new looking) hose threaded through it like some clever bypass surgery on the heart of a Victorian house.  It was a mini Time Team moment in my own garden.

I suppose I should count myself lucky as a house down the road from us discovered a burial site when they had their basement excavated.  The police were called and we all got a thrill seeing the blue and white incident tape (and it wasn't even due to filming for Morse).  The bones turned out to be Anglo-Saxon so the police stood down and the archeologists moved in.
Anglo-saxon burials in oxfordshire
c. Ashmolean Museum
Slightly creepy to think on whose bones you might be sitting...

Television producers have clocked to the fascination we have to the past we can touch with a spade and digger.  I nod here to the above mentioned Time Team who made dirty fingernails, home knitted jumpers and weathered faces archaeologically cool.

My teenage heartthrob, Michael Wood, took his crew of diggers to the little green outside my parents' house in Long Melford, Suffolk, a year or so ago.  They dug up a Roman road that they had not known was there and revealed a whole layer of history in the village just by making a couple of trenches.  To me that is akin to magic.

I can think of a number of writers who are good at doing the same thing with pen rather than shovel. One of my favourite children's books was Tom's Midnight Garden.  Philippa Pearce caught that sense so many of us have of the different eras layering in the same place - think filo pastry rather than shortcrust.  The John Gordon book, The Giant under the Snow, was another favourite.  As a child, I lived near the earthworks that made up Boadicea's camp in Epping Forest and took idea of Gordon's earthen giant with me whenever I walked there.
The edition I read as a child.
Love this cover!

Scratch the surface anywhere in the UK and history jumps out at you jack-in-a-box fashion.  I find that immensely exciting and use it to fuel my writing.  You don't have to travel to see the past; you can just close your eyes and send your imagination down into the earth.

Happy digging!


Joan Lennon said...

"You don't have to travel to see the past; you can just close your eyes and send your imagination down into the earth."


Mark Burgess said...

Good stuff, Eve. I know exactly what you mean; I'm delighted when I dig up a bit of clay pipe or pottery shard in the garden.

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh boy, I LOVED 'The Giant Under the Snow'!