Last week I did the First Sweep of the East Road, which means I did that very first deep clean which, in this case, took three hours, filling a red bag of unrecyclables, half-filling another, and filling the better part of a blue recycling bag, with cider and beer tins and bottles, single use plastics for juices, pop and water, and the odd card and paper.
The contents of the filled red bag benefited from a solid metal-bodied electric drill like the one my grandfather had, which I regret not photographing, and which weighted the bag down tremendously; along with some interconnected rusty strap metal with rubber bits, which I didn't see buried in the verge, and only discovered by stepping on. One feels a slight twinge of righteous excitement in discovering something like this - thinking of the happy driver, cyclist or horse-rider of the future, who will pull onto this verge, perhaps forced there by a passing motorist, never knowing they have been saved from a puncture or possiby something worse - being sent careening into the hedge, or thrown by their startled horse. The hidden broken beer bottles one comes across and takes out of the future occasion an even deeper sense of civic pleasure.
A kind lady from the neighbouring village stopped her car briefly to share her experience of litter-picking over there; and a fire engine, full of volunteer fire men, pulled over to ask me if I had by any chance seen a plane go down anywhere. I had to admit I hadn't, but had seen a helicopter pass low overhead, heading South. I apologised for having so little information, but was told not to worry, it was more than they already had.
But the real thrill of the three hours was the discovery of a milk of magnesia bottle, saying hello out of the inner face of the drainage ditch. The lettering is worn, but the bottle is embossed, and that tells us that it is at least 70 years old. Bottles themselves are hard to date precisely, but embossing on milk of magnesia bottles went out and paper labels came in in about 1950, at least on the American Phillips versions. This bottle is unbranded. It could be much older. We've pulled definitely dateable bottles from the 20s and 30s out of the river, and from the roadside tailings left by floods.
In situ, but slightly drawn out of its nest. Only the neck was showing originally, and it might have been something else.
The bottle, back home, emptied of the generations of clay built up inside. I feel bad destroying the archaeological context; what would an analysis of that filling clay tell us?
Over-exposed, to help make the lettering more readable.
The bottle maker's marks. For someone who knows, this would tell us who made it, and possibly when.
The bottle photographed through the back: A study in dynamic blues. Savour the richness of the lower right base.