Regarding weasel milk

Gloomy start to the day with clouds and sprinkly rain. I had my coffee up the hill as usual and was barked at by a furiously tail wagging Labrador. His owner came up and said “Quiet! Just because it’s a man with a cup of tea on the downs.” That pretty much sums me up this week.

The rain steadily worsened so I returned to the relative comfort of my tent, which has become a safe haven for all manner of insects as well as an interspecies colony of spiders. Eventually the rain reduced itself to a drizzle so I set off for Alfriston to say hi to all my village friends. The dog walker who thinks we’re all insane, the newsagent who smiles broadly, the fat farmer with the jolly “mornin'”.

It was Dawn’s (and Julia’s) turn for rubbish removal this morning so we were the last to leave the site. We were first in line at the dump, waiting for Mr Sulky to open up. The whole place looked like some sort of sci-fi futuristic over-population soylent green factory! Scary first thing in the morning and no wonder he was sulky – maybe he’s next.

By the time we arrived at Bishopstone the rain had pretty much settled in. Everyone was jammed into the mess tent with finds, scrubbing away. A few crazy people were in the trenches working on their sections, wrapped in plastic. I managed to find an almost dry bit of scraggy carpet near the kettles and commenced work with my toothbrush.

St Andrew's church, Bishopstone

At 11:15 Gabs organised us a look around in the church. It’s an excellent mix of Saxon and Norman construction. Most interesting is the wooden joists and corbels down the south aisle. Very reminiscent of the timber-framed houses we saw in Normandy at Easter. Brian and I reckoned they looked a bit new for something a thousand years old but I assume they have been replaced – maybe they got those French guys to come and replace them.

We all spent a pleasant half hour wandering around. Gabs took the trainees around, telling them what they were looking at and asking them how they’d go about figuring things out. Terry took great delight in pacing out the floor when Gabs asked how you’d work out the length of the church. Gabs then suggested a tape measure…

Returning to the mess tent I was just in time to see the Non-Flush Student Girl pour her tea slops on my bit of carpet. I was about to say something pretty biting when Jack (a supervisor, who I have since found out spread himself out a bit thinly among the ‘ladies’) did. She then threw her teabag into the vegetable patch. Jack also pulled her up on this. She, of course, thought it was a big joke. Still, you can’t really expect the ignorant to understand normal behaviour and I assume she does this at home. Maybe she thinks this is how we get more teabags.

It’s people like her that stop archaeological digs because they piss off the locals so much. Given this, you have to wonder about their dedication to archaeology. I would assume that someone who cares about something is going to do everything to ensure its continuation rather than its demise.

And then, just for a bit of entertainment, along came Liz, the finds officer. Just before they all disappeared, she marches into the mess tent and immediately launches into a diatribe about how the trays were stacked. I guess a few compliments were completely out of the picture, or even “Well done, chaps, keep up the good work” – maybe she’d been frightened by a turnip. It suddenly occurred to me what an asset she’d have been during the blitz…for the Germans.

With the exception of Martin, Owen and Jack, this lack of praise and encouragement has been a huge feature of this dig. Why does everyone have to be so bloody negative? It makes you wonder why we volunteer. The answer seems to be so you can gain enough experience and ‘friends’ so you can snaffle a section or three and be left alone by everyone. Just wrap yourself in black bin liners and whittle away in your oblivious little world. That way you get to dig up a few relics, stay focussed and happy and not give a toss about anyone else. Perhaps after a while you get just as cynical as everyone else. What a miserable life. Boy, am I glad I watch porn for a living!

Lunch was spent in the tent with newspapers and a bunch of giggling girls…well…giggling. All the supervisors had left the site to have a meeting – most people claimed it was in a pub. Wherever it was, I bet it was out of the rain. Lorna and Darren went home for a bath (they only live up the road in Lewes) and invited Bev and Matt to join them (obviously a BIG bath). John went home to do his laundry (he lives in Battle, not far away) and Tom had a driving lesson. Most of the students vanished somewhere. Non-Flush Student Girl, thank God, had gone off with some other poor bastard. Pumpkin Bob seemed permanently glued to his section, plastic bags covering everything, even his radio and his head.

We (Dawn, Brian, Nigel and I) decided to go. In the car, driving back to Alfriston, Dawn said she was actually going to pack up and go home as she was “Missing her boys”. She said if I wanted to stay, she’d come back and pick me up tomorrow. So sweet but like I’d take her up on it! I don’t think. It HAD been such a miserable day that leaving sounded pretty good to me so we packed our stuff in the rain, left a note for Bev (et al) and drove home.

Lorna in a wet trench

My feelings on the dig? I didn’t find anything, emptied an awful lot of barrows and felt pretty invisible. If this had been my first dig I doubt I’d have any interest in going on another. Thank you John Manley and David Rudkin. A Roman dig next year sounds much more palatable. That’s on one hand. On the other, I had the BEST time with our little group of weasels, making it totally bearable. All of them are fantastic and I thank them for the jolly good company and ale capacity.

When I got home I had a call from Bev saying she’d have given me a lift home had I stayed. If she’d answered her phone (which was in the car at the time) and she’d offered before I left, then I probably would have but it’s hardly the sort of thing you can assume! Anyway, chalk it up to a Saxon experience (there’s a pun in there if you know your Saxon archaeology) and roll on the next one.

Oh, later in the evening I had a text from Bev regarding weasel milk.

2012 Update: I should add that a few days after this journal appeared online, I had a call from Gabs basically saying I was killing archaeology because of what I wrote. He ordered me to take it off the Internet where anyone could see it. He was really very, very angry. He rang me at work as well.

I explained to him that it was all true. I hadn’t made any of it up. Did he think it right to muffle the truth? He was extremely upset. I ended up putting a password on the journal for a few years. Given it all happened in 2004, I think the Statute of Limitations on journal entries has elapsed and it can now be read by anyone. Bet I’m wrong and Gabs rings me again…

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