"I wasn't picking up cigarette butts..." says Andy, in a scene from Series 2 of the ever wonderful 'Detectorists', as he bumps into Dr Tendai, who, shortly beforehand, had interviewed him for an archaeology job in Botswana. "Clay pipes," he continues, "I saw some bits of clay pipe in the flowerbed..." He holds out his palm to show the chalky white pipe fragments. "Broken bits of pipe that people used to smoke."
They do look like cigarette butts, but I've found myself just as acutely aware of their existence as Andy is, any time I'm pottering around in my garden. Only yesterday I wasn't even digging or anything, I just glanced downwards briefly to where the snowdrops have emerged and a piece of clay pipe was just lying there, looking up at me. Well, not exactly looking up at me, but you know what I mean. Not buried, not even dirty. Just lying there in the open, above the soil, as if it had been strategically placed there by someone five minutes beforehand for me to spot. Who is that phantom pipe layer?!
These are some of the pipe fragments I've found in the same circumstances, all of them in this small, humble garden, all of them brought to the surface naturally - by worms, birds, moles, voles, Wombles, who knows what, but they just appear now and then, unsearched for - and I love it.
Back to the scene in 'Detectorists'. "How old are they?" asks Dr Tendai. "These ones are Victorian.." Andy points to the thinner fragments, "but that one's early 18th, maybe late 17th Century." "How can you tell?" Dr Tendai's curiousity is clearly piqued now. "Older ones are thicker and they had a much smaller bowl because tobacco was so expensive..."
Thick and thin together
I haven't found any sections with the bowl intact yet but now I know, from Andy's explanation and yesterday's find, that I had in my hand a little piece of (thicker) pipe which must once have been puffed on by someone around 400 years ago. Here's another fragment with some relief decoration at one end still showing too.
I can't help it, I just love how something so small and simple can resurface after hundreds of years and make me feel that myserious connection the way it does. I hope I'll keep finding
cigarette butts bits of clay pipe in my flowerbeds.
I was wondering about some music to accompany this post too. Well, I could have given you Crackdust, the Botswanian death metal band mentioned by Andy and Lance in this episode - honestly, they're real - but how about an unexpectedly stompy glam version of the Nashville Teens' 'Tobacco Road' instead?
Albatross: Tobacco Road, 1975
(Although, if you're still curious about Crackdust...)