The pigs are digging in the old dump. They rip the turf and unearth objects of strange antiquity.
The old boy who lived in this house before us had been tipping his junk over the dyke for years; out of sight and out of mind. I grumbled to gather up his plastic bottles and sardine cans, and I cursed him for leaving me with work to do. The job bent me double, and I had time to soften and recall that pollution is newly wrong; I am more offended by rubbish than he ever would have been. His response to the growing cowp was simply to set it on fire every few years, thereby decreasing its volume. I shudder because he shrugged.
The best I could do was pick up the obvious top layer. I found mats of melted trash, and I broke them up and hauled them away to the council dump. I did not realise that this has been a cowp for generations, and the layers of rubbish have grown like scabs on a rotten wound. Now the pigs are organising a precise inventory of lost litter.
At first they showed me glass bottles. Broken shards peered through the mud like dragon teeth, and I hurried to clean them up in case the pigs were slashed by the glittering edges. But below the shattered trash lay troves of pristine glass; a dozen immaculate beer bottles from the long defunct brewery in Dumfries; heavy brown jugs of DOMESTOS lying strewn beside lemonade from McMichaels of Eastriggs (also defunct). They were beautiful, and they might have been emptied yesterday. I stacked them in a crate and now the wind blows over the glass tops and plays old tunes in the yard.
And then the pigs brought me jars of lime marmalade, meat paste and Brylcreem. I was on the trail of teddy boys, but soon we were deeper into cork-stoppered jugs of liniments and unctions. I stumbled upon the muddy shell of a toy Austin 7, then found spokes which might have come from the real thing. And there were boot soles and mess tins, horse shoes and tough fibres of leather tack. I found a gas lamp and several earthenware jars which had been made in Castle Douglas. Soon the pigs and I were passing beyond the Great War, back into discs of blue and white china which dressed the gears of a bicycle and the breech of a shotgun. Even this morning, I kicked a new clod and revealed the head of a hoe and the hands of a clock.
I lived for a time in Africa where farms are new and yards have nothing to hide. I showed the Afrikaaners photographs of my home and they were astonished by the sight of grey stone buildings and cobbled yards. They said “Yes, you’re lucky to come from a place like that, to live in your own history…”
The pigs are working a rich seam. Most of this stuff is rotten junk and I would never think twice to see it in a car boot sale. But I am captivated because it is here in this place which is fast becoming mine. We only started here eighteen months ago, but there is no such thing as a clean slate around these parts. There is no glamour in Domestos or broken enamel taps, but that broken museum is breathing down my neck.