The earth in our back garden is full of treasure and I am like a beady eyed magpie forking through the soil looking for the next brightly patterned piece, another curious shape painted an old fashioned delicate hue.
It all started three years ago, on a family holiday at the Cornish coast, poring over shingle beaches, close to the water’s edge where the tide had lethargically been ebbing out. Here, our treasures are sea glass, polished smooth, semi translucent pebbles just right for holding in the palm of a little hand and turning over and over. If we are really lucky, a bottle blue or mermaid green piece – a prize longed for by our little people especially when a sibling manages to find one and squirrels it quickly away. We fill our buckets and label each one, bringing them home to create pictures. And we are hooked on treasure, me and my little magpies.
This spring, in the new house, we spend hours digging, moving plants and unearthing bulbs. The ground is an unexpected trove of treasure. I dig deep, forking the earth over and over in readiness for raised vegetable beds and my little helpers are keen to spot the treasure every time mamma turns over another forkful of soil.
The girls love the shiny pieces. They wash and polish them in buckets in the mud kitchen.
The little fella is fascinated with their shapes and asks me if I think the pieces will tessellate. I stop digging and we sit on the edge of one of the sleepers to look through his treasure. I tell him that they can also be called pottery and I share with him my own story of growing up in a pottery town, watching the delicate pieces being painted by hand. He loves his new word and lets it play on his lips over and over while he fingers the muddied pieces. I ask him where he thinks all the pieces came from and I expect a story in return of pirates and treasure like some of his story books. But the one he tells me is an imaginative tale of the old lady who previously owned the house and her precious tea pot that got broken, sending the pieces flying into the garden to be lost forever. He describes to me how she searched for the pieces but to no avail and he promises to dig for forever and a day to rediscover all of the missing pieces so that she will be sad no more.
It is a strange glimpse into the lives of two or three generations past, imagining families eating from the willow-patterned pieces which we unearth. The kilner jar on the kitchen window sill fascinates our visitors, full of an eclectic mix of pottery shards with vivacious colours and teraccota hues. It is a funny thing to get excited about, yet the history behind them sparks the imagination and there is something quite romantic about it all.
I think there is just that little bit of magpie in us all.