Rag And Bone by Lisa Woollett

4 out of 5 stars

Think about the last thing that you threw into a bin. Was it waste that you couldn’t recycle, or was it something that someone could have taken and used again or in another way? If it is destined for landfill then there is a high chance that if it ever comes to life again if is going to be in as good a condition as when it was buried out of sight in a vast hole in the earth.

Gone are the days where almost everything was reused or repurposed leaving almost nothing to actually be discarded. Materials such as dog poo had a value, though I don’t fancy wearing the high-value calfskin gloves that it was used to make. Even a dead cat had value, provided you knew who needed them. It sounded like a grim life collecting these sorts of things.

Lisa Woollett is a mudlark and beachcomber when she is not taking photographs of things. This desire to find the items that others have discarded is deeply embedded in her DNA. Her grandfather collected waste and rubbish in London. Not only did they collect the rubbish from people, but they could also make a reasonable living acquiring the ‘toot’ or items salvaged from the rubbish that they could sell on.

She is based in Cornwall now and we are introduced to beaches there that seem to have a knack of collecting the items that fall of container chip on a regular basis. We also join her in London to find treasures alongside the Thames before heading out to the estuary to the landfill sites that are now being breached by rising tides and stronger storms. Rubbish from 1986 that has not deteriorated in all those years, falls out of the cliffs in front of them. The names of the places she visits are quite eerie too, Slaughterhouse Point, The Shade and Deadman’s Island, to name a few.

But it is a warning too, the waste that we are casually discarding is having a huge effect on the health of the oceans and the life in the depths. It is probably too late to fix it too, but some people are trying to make a difference. I particularly liked the photos that she has of the detritus from the various locations and collated as almost art. It is still shocking though.

Even though this is a book about rubbish, it is not a rubbish book and I really liked this. It is full of fascinating nuggets of information about the things that we have discarded and into this Lisa has woven her family history into this memoir seamlessly. If you liked Lara Maiklem’s book, Mudlark then you should read this too.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    A very timely book as we all try to do our bit (don’t we?) to reduce waste.

    • Paul

      I do try.

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