Shore finds collected while writing Rag and Bone

Travelling Museum of Finds

Following the launch of Rag and Bone, I would have been at festival and bookshop events in 2020 with a ‘Travelling Museum of Finds’. Part printsetter’s tray, part suitcase, it contained shore finds collected while writing the book. Instead, as lockdowns meant events were cancelled, this blog offers a virtual show-and-tell of its lost and discarded objects.

Rag & Bone: the book & museum

This photograph of my kitchen cupboard was taken three years ago, which is really where Rag and Bone began. The beachcombed finds are mainly natural – among them pink sea fans, sea urchins, an anglerfish jawbone – and were collected while I…

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No 1. Bone & plastic combs (17th-21st Century)

Combs have been a favourite shore find of mine for years. I like that they’re ordinary, personal objects, as well as one of our oldest tools. The earliest known comb was carved from bone around 8000 years ago, and the design has…

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No 2. Action Man body parts (1966-73)

This hand is around 50 years old and washed up on a Cornish beach during the February storms. As the strongest gales of Storm Ciara coincided with high spring tides, waves dragged much of the sand offshore, releasing buried plastic that was…

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No 3. Light bulbs & the Phoebus cartel

‘We headed towards Warden Point – which is no longer a point – and the strange, unstable landscape felt almost immediately remote. On exposure to air, London clay weathers to brown, and here it rose above the shore in odd peaks and…

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No 4. Fèves: a plastic wise man & a fish

The plastic figure below is one of the Bible’s three wise men. I found it on the south coast of Cornwall, in a strandline tangle of seaweed and plastic left by the night’s high tide. For almost a year I had no…

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No 5. Sugar moulds, cowries & slavery

‘Having crossed London on the Tube wearing wellies (which always gets a few glances), I walked into Wapping through cavernous streets overshadowed by luxury warehouse conversions. When I reached the alley leading through to Wapping Old Stairs it was sunk in shadow,…

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No 6. Gradual breakdown of the flotsam army

Over the years I’ve found a lot of plastic army men on beaches. Most are left on the strandline at high tide, often amongst the swathes of plastic that litter Cornwall’s ‘collector’ beaches after gales. Some are whole, but many are missing…

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No 7. Toothbrushes: bone & plastic

In Europe, the toothbrush remained a luxury until the late 18th century. The most expensive had badger-hair bristles and handles made from ivory, mother-of-pearl and silver. Yet despite a steep rise in the consumption of sugar, most people in England were still…

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No 8. Plastic nature

Against strandline seaweed, the green of plastic plants catches the eye. Perhaps most poignant are those left high on shore after gales, particularly on deserted storm beaches. Here, over weeks and months, the beach scavengers do their work: poking gulls, sandhoppers and…

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No 9. Buttons (17th – 21st century)

The regularity of circles always draws my eye. So whether mudlarking or beachcombing, I often find buttons: in shallow Thames pools or wedged side-on between stones, amongst the estuary shingle or Cornwall’s strandline plastic. Those I found while writing Rag and Bone…

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No 10. Goose barnacles & the plastisphere

In the past, goose barnacles attached to mainly driftwood. Now though, I find them on everything from plastic bottles, fishing gear and toothbrushes to disposable lighters and flip flops. Plastic bottle with goose barnacles As larvae, goose barnacles drift in the plankton…

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