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Oral History Transcript
Interviewees: Florrie and Cecilia
Date: 21st August 2019
Interviewer: Gina Slater
Q: This is an oral history interview with Florrie Evans and her daughter Cecilia, by Gina Slater on the 21st of August 2019. Also present are--,
Q1: Eva Tausig.
Q: As part of the Thames Festival Trust’s Foragers of the Foreshore Heritage Project. Please could you state your full name?
A: Yes, I am Florrie Evans.
Q: And where were you born?
A: I was born in Hammersmith actually, but I grew up in Putney and in Barnes [variously 0:00:40].
Q: And what subjects were you interested in at school?
A: English literature and history, and art, all very predictably things that have kind of leached into my adult life.
Q: And how does--, what does a typical week look like for you?
A: Well, at the moment I’m very lucky because I get all of August off from the gallery where I work. But I do have a full-time job at an old master paintings gallery, five days a week, Monday to Friday, where I’m a director, and it’s called The Weiss Gallery and we’re based in Jermyn Street, just parallel to Piccadilly. So, a typical week for me involves a rather rushed school run, doesn’t it, getting you to school, Cecilia. And then, if the tide is right because I start work at ten and I drop Cecilia at nine, I might just get half an hour on the foreshore before I go to work. And I get everywhere--, I go everywhere on my bicycle which really shrinks London. And then, I pick you up don’t I, at five-thirty.
Q: Thank you. So, how long have you been mudlarking?
A: It’s quite a difficult question because I grew up by the River, so technically I’ve been mudlarking, although I didn’t know it was mudlarking, since I was Cecilia’s age really. But it became more of a kind of focussed passion in my late twenties and through my thirties. And especially when I was on maternity leave with Cecilia, it was a great way of getting her to sleep by going out for long walks on the foreshore with her in a sling. So, it just kind of lent itself to mudlarking. And Cecilia’s currently tapping me on my knee 'cos she’s doing drawings of her finds and--, what do you want to say?
Q1: Cecilia, what year are you in in school?
Q: And what year are you going into?
C: Year one.
Q: Year one. And what’s the name of your best friend?
Q: And what--, at the moment, what’s your favourite subject at school?
C: It’s--, [pause] er, reading.
Q: Reading. What’s the very first thing that you can remember that you found when you were mudlarking, when you’re foraging? Or your favourite thing?
C: Erm, my big garnet.
Q: Could you say that again?
C: My big garnet.
Q: Could you describe it to me?
C: So, it’s quite big and when I picked it up, Mummy thought it was like a flint, but it was actually a garnet and I said it was a--, “It’s a garnet,” and then she said, “No, it’s probably a flint.” Then she saw it was a garnet.
Q: And where do you keep it, where does it live?
C: It lives in a shelf with a bottle of garnets.
Q: So, you’ve got more garnets.
Q: That you found.
Q: How did you find that in the mud? How did you see that?
C: It was just lying there.
A: It was on the surface, wasn’t it?
A: It was quite a pebbly patch, quite a flinty patch, and Cecilia when she picked it up, she was--, I can’t remember whether she was two, just about to turn three, or had just turned three, so she was very tiny. And she went, “Oh, Mummy, here’s a garnet,” 'cos she knew that we’d gone to this particular patch of foreshore to find garnets, but bear in mind they’re usually really tiny, even smaller than a pea, and this fits in the palm of the hand. It’s probably about the size--, you were saying it was the size of a eyeball this morning, weren’t you?
C: Even bigger probably.
A: Probably even--, yeah, I think it probably is bigger than an eye. But yeah, when she picked it up, she went, “Oh, it’s a garnet,” and I thought, oh, just a flint, and then I looked at it and I went, my God, it really is a ginormous garnet.
C: 'Cos you can see the red patches on the bottom.
A: And all the seasoned old mudlarkers from the Society who’ve looked at it, say that they’ve never found one as big, and it’s been with the Museum of London for analysis as well. And they say, as far as they know, it’s the biggest one to have been found.
Q: That is extraordinary.
A: It is, yeah.
Q: That’s extraordinary. Can you tell us about your first experience of mudlarking?
A: Yes. So, I remember, I must have been about Cecilia’s age and we’d gone for a family walk with some cousins who were over from America, and we were walking along the towpath in Barnes and we saw that it was low-tide, and I think my aunty actually spotted a swan’s feather down on the foreshore, and I was desperate to go and fetch it. So, we all went down to pick up the swan’s feather, and underneath it was a little shard of blue and white pottery. And that really fired me up, and then I wanted to find more. And then, pretty much from that point on, whenever we went down to the River which was often, 'cos we lived near it, I would go looking for pottery. And for a long time--, I started picking up clay tobacco pipe stems, and I didn’t know what they were, and it wasn’t until much later that I worked out what this collection of pipe stems was on a school trip, or a family trip, I can’t exactly remember, to Hampton Court where they had some in a display case. And at that point I remember thinking, right, now I have to find a clay pipe bowl. And it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I found a clay pipe bowl, my first one, which I’ve actually brought along here, which I found with my mum. And that was kind of quite an exciting moment for me because it was--, it had been the holy grail. Now, Gina, I’ve now got a lot of pipes [laughs]--,
Q: When you say a lot, how many?
A: Well, you could fill a bowl, and I’ve given away probably bucketfuls as well, over--,
C: It’s not working.
A: Oh, the pen’s stopped working, oh no.
A: There’s another one.
Q: Do you have a favourite time of the year to mudlark?
A: I do. Winter. Because there are less people on the foreshore. I get it to myself, and for me, the River represents peace of mind and tranquillity and I have to say -- and I’m part of the problem because I realise there’s a big social media phenomenon and, you know, I feed into it with my Instagram, and the River is everybody’s and it’s all of London’s, so I can’t get too territorial -- but I do love it when I have it to myself and I can just lose myself in the River, and not worry about having to even have any kind of interaction with anybody at all, except for maybe Cecilia when she’s with me.
Q Any particularly hairy situations that you found yourself in, in--,
A: Yes, an embarrassingly hairy situation. I am not particularly good at mudlarking with all the kit, so I don’t necessarily go in wellies. It’s very impromptu for me, because obviously I have a full-time job, and I have Cecilia, and I often try and fit in mudlarks around my life, rather than the other way around. So, there was one day a couple of years ago where I think Cecilia was on a play date, I don’t know where daddy was, he may have been at work, he works in the theatre, so he often works weekends. And I found that I was near the River, and I thought I’m going to pop down. And I was just wearing plastic sandals, so you’d think it would be okay 'cos, you know, they’re sort of waterproof, it’s okay. But they were slip-ons, and I was walking across a slightly muddy patch and one of my shoes came off. And I realised that I had to actually take my foot out of my shoe in order to rescue the shoe. And then my other shoe went, and then I realised I was halfway across the area and I just had to keep on walking. So, I kept on walking barefoot, holding my sandals and then it gets worse Gina, I trod on a dead rat.
A: And I’ve only recently started to admit this, because it’s such a gross story.
C: [Laughs] Yuk.
A: And it’s not something I’m proud of. But that’s probably my hairiest moment.
Q: So, could you tell me how you--, what you actually wear and how you set yourself up for a morning or day of mudlarking?
A: Well, I will wear whatever I happen to be in that day [laughs]. Hopefully, I’ll be in trainers, and the great thing about trainers is you can stick them in the washing machine and so, I’m definitely not a wellie person. And it’s surp--, actually, it’s surprising how clean you can stay whilst mudlarking. The foreshore isn’t necessarily muddy in all patches, you know, it’s got sandy patches, pebbly patches, and there’s nothing a bit of Thames water won’t wash off [laughs].
Q: Cecilia, what did--, when you go mudlarking, what do you wear, or what do you like to wear?
Q: From here down to your feet.
A: We usually--, when we go mudlarking together we take a change of leggings, don’t we, and socks, and generally you do wear wellies, don’t you? Because you like--,
C: Whenever I can [laughs].
A: [Laughs] A change of pants even, it’s true. Sometimes when you were little, we’d take a whole change of clothes 'cos you’d get so muddy.
A: But when you and Rainbow go mudlarking together, you guys just end up looking like you’re covered in mud, don’t you?
A: You just get so squelchy.
C: Because the last time me and Rainbow were mudlarking, probably before that when we had a sleepover, we were walking in the mud and we splashed around in the mud, and our pyjamas got all splashy and wet [laughs].
A: Yeah, we went mudlarking and you were in your pyjamas, weren’t you, and wellies, 'cos it was an early morning tide, very early. And I’d bribed them with the promise of breakfast at our favourite café, and so you went in your pyjamas and wellies, and your pyjamas were ruined [laughs].
Q: So, could you tell me your most memorable experience, your most memorable experience of mudlarking?
A: Oh, goodness, erm ... the funny thing is that everything I find is evocative for me, and I can pick up everything, even just a simple shard of pottery, and tell you where I found it, and what was going on in my life on that day. Something that is particularly meaningful for me, that I recently found is a Georgian watch-winder which I’ve just got here, which you can see even still winds. And this was found on a mudlark when I was on my way to work, and I literally had about ten minutes on the foreshore, and I didn’t expect to find anything, and it was sort of wedged between two rocks, and it was glinting out at me because it’s, as you can see, beautifully applied with gold leaf and it has this etched foliate pattern. And I just find it amazing that this is three hundred years old, and if I just had the stopwatch, I could wind it up. And that was memorable.
A: Seeing that. Oh, Cecilia’s just put on her thimble--,
C: And it fits on this one.
A: And it fits, and that is a very special find. And I think we found that together when you were a tiny baby actually. And it fits her. And another thing that we have brought Cecilia, isn’t it, is a little ring which fits her, which is also special. Which was another kind of pre-work find. You see, this is made out of pewter, it’s very simple, it’s just a little star, and it’s post-medieval, I mean, it could be anything from--, it’s probably I think sort of 17th century, and according to the Museum of London, it’s known as a fairground prize ring. It was probably the sort of thing--, it would have been quite shiny at the time, it would have looked silver, that would have been won at a fair, at a fête. And it’s child-size, so Cecilia, would you like to model this ring? Which finger does it fit on? That one.
C: We did it on the middle one.
A: You like it on the middle finger, yeah. So, that’s quite a special little find. I have found a few rings in my time, but I think things that fit Cecilia get me most sort of touched really.
Q: Do you have a particular area that you prefer or return to?
A: Yes. I have several favourite areas. So, I have my favourite area with Cecilia which is close to home, and we go to Wapping together, and also to Rotherhithe which is just literally over--, across the water. But I go more centrally on my way to and from work. I love the South Bank which I also associate with my boyfriend, Ross, because he is a sound engineer and he does a lot of work at the National Theatre so, you know, going there I can sometimes pop in and see him too, so those are my kind of three special spots.
Q: How long do you spend by the River?
A: Not long enough.
A: I really do snatch and grab half hour to an hour slots. The ideal mudlark, and most people who’ve sort of taken part in this project, would have maybe three to four hours. You’d do two hours before low-tide and two hours after low-tide. But, you know, you have to have the time and I don’t [laughs].
Q: Do you prefer to see and pick up, or do you dig?
A: I don’t dig, no. I’m very much a scavenger of the surface. I sometimes wonder whether I should scrape, because my friends who scrape find the most amazing things, but no, I generally just kind of look at the foreshore, find a patch that looks promising. I’m sort of assessing the tidelines. The River arranges everything by weight, so you get kind of gravelly patches, very fine shingle where I know there might be buttons and beads. So, I’ll choose my patch and then I’ll get down on my hands and knees. So, it’s not a case of walking along and going, “Oh, look, there’s a button.” I am literally down with my nose to the mud assessing a meter squared. Don’t find anything, move onto the next meter square. It’s kind of like that.
Q: So, do you think over time you’ve actually developed an eye to spot things, or do you think it’s actually something that’s quite innate in someone?
A: A bit of both. I think it’s--, I think you need patience, don’t you Cecilia, to mudlark. But sometimes, you know, we’ll find something within the first five minutes and then nothing at all for the rest of our session, so ... oh, Gina’s showing you a lovely sherd to draw.
Q: What do you do with all the things that you find?
A: I have a Kunstkammer which is a traditional kind of art cabinet. In fact, I should--, I can bore you with--,
Q: Please do.
A: The notion of a Kunstkammer which goes back as far as the 17th century and earlier where collectors of curios and of art would have a room with cabinets in which they would keep their precious finds and often international things. You know, obviously when you think of trade, curios like shells and coral and tortoise shells would be displayed alongside paintings which would hang on the walls. Now, my dream is to have a room dedicated to mudlarking, but that--, in our two-bedroom house that’s not really practical. So, I have a large cabinet in which I have many drawers filled with my finds. But actually, I need to upgrade it, and I think I’d like to upgrade it to a haberdashery display case, because they have got glass drawers. So, that’s kind of what I’m aiming for.
Q: Cecilia, where do you keep all the things that you find?
C: Some I keep in here, and some I keep in little wooden drawers.
Q: Could you describe what you’ve just said? What’s here?
C: So, there’s kind of this amber ring, and I think it came off a bottle [inaudible 0:20:16] and--,
Q: Could you tell me about the box that you keep all your things in? What’s the box made of?
C: The box is made of plastic. You think it’s made of glass, but it’s actually made of plastic.
A: Yes, and it’s got lots of compartments, hasn’t it?
Q: Has the River changed over the years, Florrie?
A: Yes, it’s changed quite a lot. I think surprisingly, for the better. I remember when I was little there were whole swathes where I grew up which were covered in what my mum called flotsam and jetsam, which was just plastic rubbish. And there are still areas of the River where you get a disheartening amount of rubbish, but actually I would say the River is a cleaner place now. They--, I don’t know what--, I don’t think that people’s habits have changed in the way in which sadly we throw things away, but I think that the way the River is cleaned is probably better than it was in the 1980s.
Q: Do you throw things back into the River that you’ve found?
A: I do. I upgrade my collection constantly, and because I can’t really expand beyond my Kunstkammer, I--, you know, it’s not limitless, if I find that I have a better example of a particular sherd of pottery, for instance, or a--, I love handles, and I’ve got lots and lots of [turned 0:21:56] handles from across the centuries, I’ll go, “Oh, this is better--, this is a better Tudor green-glaze handle than my current one,” and then I’ll take the one that I had previously back to the River on my next trip, and chuck it back in.
Q: Now, how would you--, Cecilia, how would you describe mudlarking in one word? [Pause] Is it--,
A: That’s a really hard question, isn’t it? What is it for you? Is it fun? Is it muddy? Is it just something you associate with mummy? What is it for you?
Q: How would you describe it Florrie, in one word?
Q: [Laughs] Now, we’re going to move on to describing the objects. So--,
A: Oh, this is exciting.
Q: Cecilia, I would like you to choose one of your objects and I would like you to describe it [pause]. I want you to tell me all about it. It’s colour, it’s shape, what it is.
C: It’s a tusk.
Q: What’s a tusk?
C: A tusk is something that stops other animals eating them and they can fight with them like an elephant or boar.
Q: So, it’s from an animal.
A: This is a boar’s tusk, isn’t it?
Q: And where did you find that?
C: I can’t really remember actually.
A: We were in Wapping, weren’t we?
Q: So, how many tusks would an animal have?
Q: So, you’re hoping to find another one.
A: We do actually have quite a few, don’t we?
A: We’ve just brought one today. This is one we found together. And the reason this is so cool, is because wild boar became extinct in England around seven hundred years ago. So, this is very very old, isn’t it Cecilia?
A: And we’ve had to preserve it. What did we use to preserve it, to treat it?
A: yeah, we keep it moisturised with Vaseline, to stop it disintegrating because it’s been so beautifully preserved over the centuries in the anaerobic mud, when it’s washed up and exposed to air for the first time it can disintegrate. I’ve actually lost a few boar’s tusks through not treating them, but this I probably rub Vaseline into monthly. And I’ve also put some epoxy resin glue into the core to keep it together.
C: You mean like here?
A: Yeah, because it can crack.
C: Oh, my God, Mummy--,
A: Oh, I’ve got a little cut on my thumb, it’s nothing, don’t worry. Yeah, you can see it splitting there, the glue inside is holding it together. But some people have really clever ways of preserving these sorts of natural finds. Another thing is to use a mix of glycerine and alcohol. So, that’s pretty special.
A: This is a little bell that Cecilia found, was it last year that you found this?
C: I think so.
A: Yeah, do you want to ring it?
Q: Now, how old is this bell?
A: It’s medieval, so it would have come off a little animal, maybe a goat or something, a goat bell.
C: Or maybe a sheep.
A: Or a sheep, yeah, something like that.
Q: And where did you find it?
A: Well, where do we always go together?
A: Yeah, I think this was from Wapping. And I’ve got something else actually which I would like to blow, and maybe Cecilia would like to. This is something I found myself very near Tate Modern. And you see, it looks like a little horse and when I picked it up for the first time I thought it was a chess piece, but it’s a hawking whistle [whistle noise]. Shall I give it a better blow? I’m better at this [laughs]. [Whistle noise] Oh, that’s it, well done. So, [whistle noise] that’s a hawking whistle, and it’s 18th century [whistle noise]. That’s it Cecilia, there we go.
A: So, that would have been for summoning your hawk.
C: You mean--, what does that mean?
A: Well, for getting the hawk--, well, people would have a hawk [whistle noise] as a pet and to catch pigeons and things, and it was a sport--,
C: You mean to let pigeons away.
A: Yeah, and you’d blow the whistle to call your hawk back [whistle noise]. That’s it, brilliant, well done.
Q: Did you know what it was when you found it?
A: No, I thought it was a chess piece because it’s got this little horsehead. Of course, hawking was quite a chivalric and kind of--,
C: But then, did you see this horse?
A: Masculine sporting pursuit, so you’d ride--,
A: A horse as well.
C: Then, did you see [this part 0:28:21]?
A: Then I saw the hole and it was full of mud [whistle noise], so I thought maybe it’s a whistle, I’ll wait ‘til I get home. And I washed it and sure enough, it was [whistle noise].
Q: Do you find that with objects that once you’ve washed them--,
Q: Something becomes revealed--,
Q: That you absolutely did not see or was aware of at the time?
A: Especially with lead objects. So, I now have a kind of policy of picking up most bits of lead that I find because what might look just like a random piece of lead on the foreshore, once you get back and you wash it, it might be part of a pilgrim’s token--, a pilgrim’s badge or a trading token or something. That’s the ideal [whistle noise]. And often, lead gets bent, so I recently found a Plantagenet token, period token, and it was folded in half and it wasn’t ‘til I got it home and gently unbent it under the hot tap, that I realised it was what I had been hoping, so yes.
Q: Cecilia, would you like to choose another object that’s one of your favourite ones, and describe it. Tell me the shape of it, and what it is, and the colour of it
Q: So, what’s that?
C: It’s a marble.
Q: And what colour is it?
Q: And how old do you think it is?
A: Not that old. Maybe as old as grandma.
A: Maybe about 75, yeah.
Q: And where--, how did you feel when you found it?
C: Erm--, proud [pause].
Q: Cecilia, would you like to choose another object and tell me about it? [Pause] What is that?
C: It’s a sandstone.
Q: And what colour is it?
C: I would say it’s bronze.
A: It’s very sparkly, isn’t it?
A: And polished and smooth.
A: And it’s quite a nice tactile shape. What shape is it?
C: A cube.
Q: Do you know what that was used for?
A: It’s a Hindu offering, I think. It’s something that would have been thrown into the River as a special religious rite, I think. You often do find Hindu offerings in the Thames, and actually there’s another lump of rose quartz here which is probably a Hindu offering as well. And Cecilia found that quite recently, didn’t you, when we were with Hannah I think, and she was taking photographs, wasn’t she?
C: You can see it through the marble.
A: Yes, that marble acts almost like a magnifying glass, doesn’t it?
Q: Florrie, would you like to choose an object that is your complete favourite one, that was your most exciting find?
A: Oooh, erm, well, I’m desperate for Cecilia--,
A: To choose something here which she found--, which I think is her most exciting find, other than the garnet, which is this. What is it?
C: A domino.
A: What’s it made from?
A: How old is it?
C: 18th century, three hundred years old.
A: Cecilia picked this up--, she was being--, I have to say you were in a bit of a grump that day, weren’t you?
A: [Laughs] And we were with daddy, and we were near the top of the foreshore, and again it was a case of you were just like, “Oh, what’s this? Oh, look at this.” And she just picked it up and I do have a little collection of gaming pieces and a domino of my own, but I just thought it was amazing that she spotted that, 'cos it’s very brown, isn’t it Gina? So, I think that’s cool.
Q: Cecilia, how did you spot this in the mud? Did it have the dots up, the dots down? Was it like that? Was it like that? How did you spot it?
C: It was like that.
A: Standing up.
C: Stuck in the mud.
Q: Did you know what it was?
A: But she knew it was interesting. She was like, “Oh, what’s that?”
Q: Right, Florrie, it’s your turn now.
A: Oooh, so let me just look through here.
C: This? This?
A: So, I would say, I particularly love a little mystery object here which is a token. And on it, it says, “pax” which obviously means peace, and it has a symbol on it which I can’t remember exactly what it represents, but I think it may be even the symbol for a woman. What do you think? Is that that sign? The kind of cross with the--,
Q1: Yeah, it’s the female sign.
A: Yeah, female sign. And then on the other side, is a straight line and another line on top with a little dip and three dots, and it turns out that this is actually an alchemical symbol.
C: [I’m looking at it 0:34:48].
A: The Museum of London could not get to the bottom of exactly what it is. It’s not a trading token, it probably is some kind of quack’s idea of how to kind of--, some attempt to make gold, some kind of alchem--, it is something that would have been used by an alchemist, basically it’s part of an alchemist’s kit. And it’s impossible to know--, it’s not made out of lead, it’s made out of probably bronze I think. You know, it could be 1600s, it could be 1700s, but it’s quite an interesting thing.
Q: So, how did you feel when you found that?
A: Do you know, I saw it, it was on the surface, and I really dismissed it. I picked it up and I thought it was probably quite modern, I was like, oh, that’s probably a modern coin and I just sort of put it in my little box. And then I got home, and I looked at it, and I thought, that actually is a slightly uneven disc and the writing on it is very old-fashioned typography, the “a” is kind of not your kind of modern typography, and then it sort of became more interesting to me. So, I love that, I find that very mysterious, and I love the idea of alchemy and it also makes me think of Ben Jonson who wrote a play, The Alchemist, so it kind of reminds me of that period and era.
C: Mama, look what’s inside.
A: Cecilia’s just put a marble onto a pipe bowl.
C: You have to look closely.
A: Are you trying to look inside it with the marble?
C: Yeah, I can see what’s inside. You have to try and look closely.
A: It just looks dark to me.
C: Yes, it has little thingeys in it.
Q: I am so interested in you telling me all about this one. So, what is it?
C: It’s a cat. China cat.
A: A little china cat. You found that this summer, didn’t you?
Q: Does it stand up?
Q: What do we think it was?
A: I think it might be from an ornament, 'cos look it looks as though it’s snapped off a little scene. You can imagine it might have been attached to perhaps--, it might have been with a figurine of a child, do you think? Who would play with a cat?
Q: And how did you spot that Cecilia, was it just sitting there? Was it a bit buried? Was there a bit peeping out?
C: It was just like that.
A: It was just on the surface--,
C: Yeah [sighs].
A: Of the shingle, wasn’t it?
Q: And how did you feel when you found it?
C: Proud [pause].
A: Cecilia does love cats as well, so it was definitely a good find, wasn’t it?
C: But I got bitten by a cat.
A: Yes, you’ve just got bitten by a cat while we were on holiday, didn’t you?
Q: And Florrie, would you like to talk about a final object?
A: Yes, I’m going to talk about something else that Cecilia found recently this summer, which is a little--,
C: That’s when I found the cat.
A: You found it the same day that we found the cat, didn’t you?
C: Yeah, that was at Tilbury
A: It’s a little face and it’s made out of clay. It’s made out of the clay that was used for making pipes.
C: That was that, and I think we were on ‘Beach Two’.
A: Yes, this was in--,
A: The estuary in Tilbury that we found these actually. But what’s interesting about this little face is the fact that it’s made out of pipe clay, so you can imagine that pipe makers had a line in making little toys as well, and also they would make wig curlers. So, they kind of branched out--,
C: Mmm, mmm.
A: And I think it was suggested on my Instagram, 'cos I posted this up, that it might be from a Father Christmas figure. If you can imagine a little felt figurine, a little doll, and this is a face that’s just inserted. And it’s got a big moustache and maybe it would have had a little woollen beard or something. I think that’s very evocative.
Q: Thank you so much, it’s been absolutely fascinating. Cecilia, you were wonderful.
[END OF RECORDING – 00:40:26]