Perhaps it’s all down to a writer’s far-fetched imagination, but one thing I am pretty sure of is that we all have a big, glass, corkless bottle inside of us. This bottle, inch by inch, gets filled up each time we are faced with a challenge, an upheaval, or any major event, be it good or bad. My stress-bottle, as I call it, came close to overflowing thanks to 2020, but, thankfully, I’ve come to recognise the signs when that level teeters too close to the top.

Life happens, and that bottle will always fill up, so I need to empty it, and often, to make room for whatever might come. Doing things I enjoy – things that allow me escape the news and the predictions – ensures that I decant an inch or two from my bottle, just enough to keep stress levels in check. Reading helps me keep that level down, a good movie or episode of The Repair Shop earns a few millimetres more, and being creative works too – be it handmade Christmas decorations, writing a poem or stone painting. But, for me, to toss out a good half bottle at a time requires something more:

Just like twelve-year-old Needle in Elsetime, I have a nagging passion for treasure hunting – strolling along the waterside, scanning the stones and mud or for a glint of gold or a sparkle of water-tumbled glass. I do not live near a river rich in finds such as the Thames, so I beachcomb along the sunny south east coast of Ireland instead. When I do happen upon a marble, a shard of painted teacup or even a tiny plastic toy, I stare down at it in the palm of my hand and wonder about its history: Who owned you? How did you change their lives? How old are you? Are you lost, or were you thrown away?

Some call this hunting foreshores ‘mudlarking’, but Elsetime’s Needle calls it ‘schmocking’ – SCH-M-OCK! (you have to pop your lips open at the M bit, and that’s the sound Needle hears when he pulls treasure from the soggy mud). Needle would not have been the only treasure hunter of his time – mudlarks were a common sight along the banks of the Thames during the 1800s. They were often young boys and girls, described by a visitor of the day as being “dressed like scarecrows who used to sprawl about over the mud, just as you may have seen dark little crabs.” These mudlarks were searching for anything they could sell or use, be it rusty old nails or a chunk of coal. It was their means to survival.

Likewise, Needle’s father kept a box in his satchel of his favourite mudlarked things – a green glass marble from the 1700s, a curious green medicine bottle filled with gloopy liquid, a fine bone comb and, strangely, a plain wooden doorknob. Each item tells a story, and you can find out all the details in Elsetime!

My oldest find:

An echinoid fossil and, boy, is it old! Echinoids have lived in the seas since about 450 million years ago, which is about 220 million years before dinosaurs appeared.

My rarest find:

It has to be my purple sea-glass, found by my trainee-schmocker (twin 1). Purple sea-glass is ultra-rare!

My favourite find:

An old glass bottle that warns of poison inside. Found with the help of trainee-schmocker (twin 2). I captured it in the painting of my twins’ favourite things but, unfortunately, I later broke it – boy, I was in big trouble, and how I wished for an undo button that would work!

My most valuable find:

When my Agent, Jo Hayes of The Blair Partnership, offered me representation, I was dumbstruck and ran from their offices to a tiny park down the road where I sat under a tree. At my foot, I found a gold ring. This find was special: in Chapter One of Elsetime, which was already written, Needle finds a ring just like it! Magical!

What I REALLY want to find:

Just like Needle, I want to find the rarest thing of all: treasure from the future! And when I hold it in my hand, and listen to its story, it will tell me of future hugs and holding hands, of family dinners and happy, healthy, carefree get-togethers.

Now that would empty my bottle for sure 😉

Happy schmocking, everyone!


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