Saturday, November 29, 2008

There’s a Cold Wind Blowing through Stalmine…

Ever had one of those days where you’d have been better off staying in bed, even if you were dreaming about being chased by some large wedge of Garstang blue, and the cat had stolen the duvet so that the longer you lay there ignorantly snoring the more you were going to suffer from the draught?
Well, Sunday the 19th of October was one of those days. (That shows how far behind these postings have fallen, doesn’t it?)
Chris was in a grumpy mood that morning, because he had a headache, brought on, apparently, by the lack of alcohol the night before.
There were gale force winds. The sort of winds that preferred to remain ignorant of the laws governing physics. The sort of winds that regarded my trenchcoat as no more substantial than Scotch mist. The sort that inspected my bone marrow on their way through, sowing the seeds of hypothermia in my vest and using my hat as a kite.
The platform at Grange Farm looked as though the cows had been holding a dirty protest on it. These weren’t the cheerful crusty cowpats used as discuses in Texan athletic meetings. These were screaming lava flows deposited over many flatulent eons by industrial strength bovines. They generated fine sprays of plumage, whipped up by the butter-paddles of the gale. The sort of cowpats that plough the fields and scatter like some horrible seed head, leaving a rotten taste on the tongue if you don’t shut your mouth quickly enough.
Our entire excavation squad consisted of me, Chris and Carlo. Not that I blame the others for staying at home. The Met Office had changed its mind about the weather for Stalmine so frequently over the previous twenty-four hours that their website had finally gone down with migraine. As a result I’d written three e-mails to the members of Wyre Archaeology, the two former of which had stated categorically, “Don’t bother! We’ll all die from exposure!”
To cap everything off, my doctor had put me on a strict diet, the most exciting component of which was a bag of Marmite flavoured rice cakes. They might be low in fat, but unless you enjoy eating polystyrene dowsed with dehydrated cigarette ends, then developing diabetes is a better option. I actually preferred the taste of the wind-driven eddies of cowpat flakes trying their damnedest to resettle in my throat.
All in all, as you’ve probably gathered, it wasn’t a good day.
On a day such as this, when only the devoted and the incredibly stupid are out digging holes in the middle of nowhere, massive discoveries, ripping apart the fabric of the archaeological world, are made. Discoveries so important that the residents of academia, curled up in their armchairs in front of their log fires with their pipes and their slippers and their ‘Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’s, regret their molly-coddled inaction.
So, what did we discover in Test Pit 004 Extension 004 then?

Nothing, that’s what!
Five hours I stood there wondering where the local brass monkeys would find a blacksmith’s open on a Sunday, dreaming of hot leek and potato soup with a slab of crusty bread, stuffing my hands so deep into my pockets that I discovered several boiled sweets I’d had since I was a teenager; standing there wrapped up in a thin film of rancid cow pat watching Chris and Carlo cheerfully mining their way to the Earth’s core…and for what?
Five bits of broken pipe and a large expanse of uninteresting clay floor, that’s what! At least I’m assuming it was a clay floor. It might just have been clay, to be honest, seeing as there wasn’t even a posthole in it, or a cobblestone, or some intriguing mediaeval brickwork. It was just clay…flat, endless, pointless clay…with a coating of cowpat.
Nonetheless, I’m a professional, so, duty bound, I drew up the following diagram of our long day’s labours, snapping two wind-brittle fingers in the process and foolishly licking the end of my pencil at one point, then having to blowtorch it free from my tongue again afterwards:

On the way home Chris tried to put a positive spin on the day’s events. The wind had blown his headache away. Unfortunately I’d been standing behind him at the time, so now I’d got it.
“This is what archaeology’s about,” he said, manoeuvring round the cyclists that had been scattered by the gale across the lane. “It just needs evaluating.”
“It was clay,” I replied.
“But it could turn out to be something important yet.”
“It was clay,” I persisted.
“But there was a step in it. That could be something vital like the edge of our mediaeval watermill.”
“It was clay,” I muttered, looking at a rather flat hedgehog on the road that would require a spatchula to remove it whilst longing for a cheese and onion pie smothered in thick gravy.
Want to see our small finds scan? Tough, you’re going to anyway:

Chris was absolutely right, of course. It’s in the nature of archaeology that sometimes you’re going to discover…well, just clay. After thorough investigation said clay might turn out to be something more important, a tantalising glimpse into the past that only under intensive analysis will reveal its darkest secret.
On the other hand, it might just be clay.
That night I dreamt of a large and particularly unpleasant slice of Brie with sharp teeth chasing a leaking cow through a series of trenches, whilst the cat quietly removed the duvet from my shoulders, wrapped himself up in it, and dreamed of mice and Dick Whittington and other feline matters.


Andrew said...

Mind skimming back through your previous posts since I started reading your site, you have done terribly well at eliminating areas of interest.

chris2553 said...

I have always thought that you are a bit odd, but now we have conclusive proof.

Gravy on a cheese and onion pie?


RVB said...

Chris was in a grumpy mood that morning, because he had a headache, brought on, apparently, by the lack of alcohol the night before.

Oh dear...

Our entire excavation squad consisted of me, Chris and Carlo.

Stop it please! Enough is enough!

Want to see our small finds scan? Tough, you’re going to anyway

This is seriously getting hairy!

That night I dreamt of a large and particularly unpleasant slice of Brie with sharp teeth chasing a leaking cow through a series of trenches

Your true identity is revealed! Ha!

Brian Hughes said...


" have done terribly well at eliminating areas of interest."

I've got a knack for it...although the local property developers are generally better at it than I am.


Funny you should mention that...that's what I'm about to have for my tea. It isn't a proper cheese pie until it's got gravy on it.


My psychologist suspects I'm emental.

Jayne said...

Hmmm, gravy on a cheese and onion pie with chips to dip in the gravy, too.
I think your moggy is related to ours, they have the same penchant for thinking the doona/blankets/hot water bottle/pillows belong entirely to them.

Brian Hughes said...


I suspect they both belong to the spoiltrottenus-bratticus genus, although if mine continues to wake me up at 4.30 in the morning because he wants to hold an impromptu cocktail party with his mates in my living room, like he did this morning, he'll soon belong to the felinus-beltedwithafryingpanincus group.

John said...

I think Andrew was close... you seem to be actually quite good at eliminating areas of little interest! Following the law that "you find what you're looking for in the last place you look", and being cynical at that, you should plan on excavating every spot but one.

Plan quite heartily, and then go excavate that last spot you weren't planning on... there may be a metaphysical great big 'x' on it. :0)

If you follow my drift.

Maybe I'm just daft from that cold wind blowing?

Cheer up, though... every dig brings you that much closer to the prize! JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Actually our hit rate on the whole is pretty good...with the exception of the platform at Grange Farm which just doesn't want to come up with the goodies. Having said that, it isn't producing anything to say that we were wrong either, so I'm not really complaining.