You know how it happens, there are two of you sitting drinking and then, suddenly and before you know it, there are three. So we sat in companionable conversation with our new friend Edard and swapped experiences. It struck me at one point that we were three men, no longer as young as we had been. Somehow we’d survived but not in a way our mothers might have mapped out for us.
Edard too was an artist, a poet of sorts and a passable painter. But whilst we had made great efforts to stay true to our art, Edard had almost taunted his muse, trifled with her and forced her to follow after him in her shift, barefoot and weeping.
It wasn’t that he was work-shy and shiftless, far from it. He sat there in the working dress of a day labourer, coarse trews and a grey shirt with no collar, drinking brown ale and eating bread and cheese like a man with no cares in the world. At the moment the building trade was quiet so he was earning his living by standing near public buildings with currycomb and brush, offering to groom the horses of travellers whilst they were in meetings. In his own words ‘it’s no way for a chap to make a living but it’s better than being hungry.’
He’d done other things. I liked his tale about cockles. You can see folk out on the sands with their rakes, working their way across the mud raking up cockles. The cockle-pickers have their own areas and they and the shore-combers will only cross onto each others’ beds by agreement. Knives have been drawn and feuds started for less.
But anyway one day, in a brief afternoon of idleness, he watched the cockle-pickers at work, raking away and slowly filling great sacks which they staggered ashore with. There each would be met by the appropriate tallyman. These broad-bellied individuals would place the sack on their scales and pay the wretch perhaps three vintenars for a full sack. You’d need to fill two sacks to have a decent payday which probably means you’d have to go out on both tides.
Continue reading here: Another glass?