I thought I’d amuse myself by doing a series on some of the discarded or lost objects I find in garden soil. It may be that searching for weed seedlings has simply made me used to spotting inconsistencies in the soil, but over the years there have been a surprising number of them. Many of them spark my curiosity and I feel driven to find out what they are, so much so that on some occasions I become quite vexed at not knowing.
The ‘find’ here isn’t a new one, I picked it up some time ago, long enough that I can’t remember where or when. I hadn’t come across its like before and it intrigued me for a long time. At first I thought it resembled a Belemnite, a fossilised and long-extinct order of Cephalopod from the Mesozoic Era some 252 to 66 million years ago, but it didn’t have the characteristic gut channel running through it, nor the tapered ends. Then I thought it could just be a randomly shaped piece of stone which had somehow not broken but been worn. I kept it anyway, in case an opportunity arose to find out what it was.
One day, browsing the London Mudlark community on Facebook, I saw a picture of something pretty much identical to my mystery object, with a request for identification. Most commenters reckoned it was a slate pencil – dating back to when there wasn’t as much paper available and pieces of smooth slate were used instead, with the writing instrument also being a piece of slate. They were widely used in schools, factories, on farms and in homes. It wasn’t something I had ever thought about, but I now had an intense urge to write on slate with it and see what the writing looked like and how it felt to use it.
So, scouting about for the nearest piece of slate…oh, there wasn’t any. I tried to think of anywhere I might have seen some lying about, but couldn’t. It was very annoying and I steeled myself to be patient until some turned up. Then I did an online search on ‘writing slate’ and found that you can still get them, sold as novelty items, and that they come with a new slate pencil. Great, I could compare them.
The slate and pencil arrived within days and my craving was satisfied. I wrote with both old and new pencils and was pleased to see that the marks they produced were the same. If you pressed hard, they made a nasty screeching sound like chalk scraping on a blackboard, but used softly there is just a quiet rasping of stone on stone. I rubbed across my scribble with a finger and the scrawls disappeared. I liked the impermanence of it.
A few days later, I wanted to write out a list of ingredients and was looking for a scrap of paper but my eyes fell on the slate and I used that instead. Propped up in the kitchen, it looked rather fine. Might this become a new thing, perhaps? Is it too Hipster? We’ll see, but I rather like it.