october 1994, jot & tittle vol. 2 iss. 4

July 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 |
August 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 |
16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 |
September 1 | 2 | 3

Greetings from England.

Well, actually, I'm back in Canada now, but you get the idea. I hope.

It is Monday the 12th of September as I type this, and I am distressingly aware that the deadline for Phoenix #104 is, technically, a mere four days away. I have no idea how I shall overcome this time-pressedness, short of some hefty express postage, but heck, I just cashed my student loan, so I might as well do it. There's an extra dimension to this, of course: I'm borrowing the laser printer that Trent normally borrows off of Greg, so right now he might not finish his zine on time either!

In any case, I got home late on Saturday the 3rd, and I've been catching up with my mail (credit card bills and the like) and starting yet another year at school and going to family gatherings and so on and so on, but I think I can pull this zine off anyway. However, there won't be any Cultural Icons this time, and possibly no Quote Corner either.

Oh, how was the trip? Hey, wait a minute, I'm getting to that! But first I must pay at least tacit homage to a little thing that happened to Trent and myself: we got to interview Steve Taylor! Exclusively, even!

Trent was still on his honeymoon when Flyn, the editor of Christian Info News, casually told me over the phone -- we were discussing movies up until this point -- that he could probably get me a press pass to Sonfest, the local Christian music fest that ran July 21-23, if I wanted to go. And, if I wanted to, I could even sit in on a few press conferences, including that Taylor fellow's.

If I wanted to? But of course! (I hadn't bought a ticket of my own yet because I already had one to see Steve Taylor in England.) The ironic thing in all this was that Trent had told me for months that he wanted to ask Flyn for a press pass, but the two of them still hadn't talked yet! I called Trent's place on the off-chance that he & Colette would be home already, and they were, and the long and the short of it is that Trent tagged along as my photographer and we were lucky enough to get a private 15-minute-interview after his set to make up for the rather botched press conference earlier that day.

Exactly one week later is where my travel diary begins. My apologies for being so uncreative as to follow a simple calendar format.

Thursday, July 28

My last day at work at the skylight company in Richmond. My boss gave me a ride into Vancouver, where I cashed my last paycheque and caught a bus to UBC. I bought my International Student Card (ISIC), made a massive payment on my credit cards, visited my friends at the Medical Genetics lab, bought the new Swirling Eddies CD, picked up my own copy of Apollodorus that I had ordered a few months before, and bought a British Rail Flexipass in the space of about two hours.

I also discovered that hostels have to booked, particularly in a pricey tourist haven like London! Silly me, I'd always assumed they were drop-in places. At least, that was how I got my room at the hostel in Salzburg four years ago. I booked a room in London for the 20th of August, but nothing was available for the immediate future; I caught a bus to the local Hostelling International (HI) office and managed to get my membership card five minutes before they closed.

I also managed a visit to my doctor, who told me I wouldn't need another tetanus shot (my last one being way back in highschool). At last, some stress-free good news. Fairly late that evening, I went to Byrun's place, where my brother was already playing with Byrun's computer, and we watched The Tune.

Friday, July 29

Always a believer in the virtue of procrastination, I drove out to my Oma's place to pay her a two-hour visit before the pressure of catching my plane could catch up with me. On my way home, I stopped at a post office to double-check the addresses on my postcard list.

I got home to discover that a letter from Bernie, a friend of my dad's, had arrived that day. Since they live in Stevenage, about half-an-hour north of London, I called them right away to ask if I could crash at their place, should the hostel situation prove impossible. Sure, no problem, they said.

It was about 3:00pm before I started packing. My plane was set to leave Vancouver at 8:40pm. Hey, it's the best way I know to "travel light", but I do confess getting tensed up in a way that I normally associate with overdue essays. Byrun came over to pick up my brother for another round of computer-experimenting; no, neither of them saw me off.

Trent & Colette, on the other hand, showed up at the airport, and we hung out there for about 1½ hours before I finally said good-bye to them all and boarded the plane.

I thought I saw Rick, one of the Lunt students that I met at the Classics Club meeting last February, board the plane too, but I didn't see him after that.

The in-flight movie was Iron Will, some Disney movie about husky-racing. Couldn't be bothered. I let myself fell asleep ...

Saturday, July 30

... and woke up with the most annoying ear-ache. Fortunately, I woke up just around the time they were telling us to strap in for the landing.

Gatwick Airport was too cold, detached, impersonal, and stale for my liking. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. I validated my FlexiPass -- good for travel on any 15 days of my choosing -- and made my first English purchase: the issue of Q with Sinead O'Connor's "final interview".

The train from Gatwick dropped me off at Victoria Station, which the Let's Go! guide describes as "purgatory for tourists". Hey, I'll second that. Again, I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. I found a tiny hole-in-the-wall where some people were offering accomodations in a hostel called EuroTower for £10 a night (about $22 in Canadian funds); all you had to do was hop on their shuttle-bus the next time it arrived. £10 was a heckuva lot cheaper than the £15 I'd already paid for the HI place, so I caught the shuttle and spent my first night in England on the 12th floor of some building in the Clapham district of London, in a real tiny room that I shared with an Australian guy and a German couple.

(On the drive to EuroTower, I saw lots of posters for The Flintstones, and the first thing I heard on the car stereo was Alice Cooper's "Lost in America"! Somehow I expected something more ... British.)

Sunday, July 31

I still don't know if the showers at EuroTower were meant to be co-ed or not. All I know is there were about four women waiting when I stepped out of my stall, no men, but there were also no gender markings anywhere on the door outside. Oh well, I didn't have my glasses on, and if I can't see them all that clearly, I just assume they can't see me all that clearly either.

The elevator was busted, so I had to carry my suitcase down twelve flights of stairs. A sign on the ground floor said:

Sorry: Lift out of order. Complaints Dept. 14th Floor.

Of course, the elevator only reached 13 floors in the first place. At the breakfast table I met Corey, an American who said he had smoked pot in Egypt, where there was just so much archaeology he said he had become "desensitized" to it all. But he said my course at the Lunt sounded like a good thing.

I found the nearest Underground station and bought a daypass. I phoned Bernie and his wife Cefaye again, and they said I could spend the night at their place, so I dropped my luggage off at King's Cross Station.

I bought a Coke and noticed the label described it as a "soft drink with vegetable extracts". Sounds healthy. When I finished it, I looked for a place to recycle the bottle, but the garbageman -- dressed in a suit complete with the little flower (the kind that's called a boot-in-ear or something) -- said, "Oh, it's only plastic, you can put it here," and opened his garbage bag wide to receive the bottle. As I came to discover, recycling is not quite the fad in the United Kingdom that it has become in North America.

I wanted to see the British Museum, but it doesn't open until 2:30pm on Sundays, so I walked along the Embankment and snapped a few pictures of Cleopatra's Needle, a slightly mis-named 3500-year-old obelisk that dates back to Thutmose III and was pilfered by the British Empire sometime in the 19th century.

I then walked across a nearby footbridge to the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI), a fascinating and extensive exhibition devoted to the history of film in all its various forms. I started to feel very good about that Film History class I'd pre-registered for at UBC, but MOMI was so friggin' huge that, by the time I could exit the place and catch the Tube to the British Museum, I only had 7 minutes to look around before the Museum closed!

7 minutes was enough to get a general feel of the place, though. I couldn't believe how easy it was to just walk up and touch these millenia-old artifacts. Oh, sure, there were signs all over the place telling you not to do that, but there was nobody around to really stop you! I recognized a few items from my books on ancient stuff, and I was shocked to see how thick the Rosetta Stone was -- about a foot, maybe? After 23 years of seeing flat, two-dimensional, half-toned pictures of this artifact -- the Egyptian-and-Greek inscription that gave us the chance to decipher hieroglyphics -- I wasn't prepared for the chunky block that I saw resting on the stand next to the towering Assyrian winged bulls. And something about those bulls felt wrong: a plain white arch had been plastered between them, presumably in imitation of the arch they might have supported back home in Mesopotamia. Something about these artifacts felt wrong, like I was visiting some king's harem and discovered that all the women were kidnapped from far-off territories. The artifacts felt violated somewhat, and I didn't enjoy them quite as much as I thought I would. It was still cool to touch an object and know that it had retained its features over thousands of years, but I would have liked it more if I had been touching an artifact that had remained both intact and in situ for the last few millenia.

(Of course, given the smart-bombed fate of many Mesopotamian sites, and given the willingness of Middle Eastern natives to smash an artifact into pieces to sell them off to tourists, it's probably just as well that the artifacts are tucked safely away in London. But it still feels somewhat sad.)

... Yes, all of that occurred to me in the 7 minutes I was there. Outside the Museum I started to write the first of many postcards, and who should happen to pass me but Rick, the guy I spotted boarding the airplane two days previously, on his way to some function with his partner! We talked a bit, and he said he was staying in London for the entire 8 or 9 days we had left before the dig began: "I've done the tourist thing," he said, referring to a past visit. Nothing was open, so I caught the train to Stevenage, where Bernie & Cefaye's son Timothy picked me up. The last time I saw him, way back during the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, he was 1 year old and I was 6. Now, for the next day-and-a-half, he was my chauffeur of sorts. Weird.

Bernie & Cefaye were very hospitable, despite the fact that Bernie was drugged up with painkillers because of some medical problems he was having, a fact that was never mentioned in their previous letters or phonecalls. They remembered my family's 1977 visit and said the one thing they remembered about me was that I was really into Spider-Man -- my, how times have changed! I told them I had very few memories myself of that visit, except for the three-wheeled cars, but I hadn't seen any yet on this trip.

Monday, August 1

After a good 12½-hour sleep, I think I took care of most of my remaining jet-lag. Tim & I drove down to St. Albans, where there was a museum filled with little Roman artifacts, including a few requisite skeletons. I discussed a number of England-Canada comparison issues with Tim, but the one that struck me as the most interesting was the difference in broadcasting attitudes: in Canada, a certain percentage of all songs played on the radio must be "Canadian", but English radio stations have to make every sixth song "European" to show that they really do intend to be part of the Common Market! Quite the opposite of our protectionism.

Later that night, Cefaye drove me over to Knebworth to meet her sister Jane, who was recently ordained as a minister in the Anglican church. Cefaye & Jane & their family were good friends of my father's when he stayed in England on his way to Canada back in 1968, after the South African government had expelled him for his anti-apartheid activities, so I had to endure the usual "he looks like Alan" comments. But they were also a very entertaining pair of siblings, and I'm glad I met them.

Tuesday, August 2

Tim dropped me off at the rail station, where all the newspapers -- about a dozen different mastheads filled the racks -- loudly proclaimed that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley really are married after all. Even here, this is big news.

I made the four-hour ride north to Newcastle-on-Tyne. When the train passed through York, I noticed a billboard with the words "Welcome to" above a huge three-dimensional replica of a Yorkie bar. Silly people. And Newcastle was even worse than London for Bryan Adams paraphrenalia. Sheesh, it's bad enough I live in the same city as him ...

While I waited for my ride, I paid my 30p admission (about 66¢ Cdn.) and ran up and down the spiral staircase of a nearby castle keep that dates back to about a.d. 1100. Canada, and probably most of North America, has nothing to compare to these centuries-old fortresses sitting in the midst of modern downtown traffic zones. I found this much more exciting than walking around the British Museum, standing inside a real live and mostly unaltered castle keep: I checked out as many rooms as I could and snapped photos like crazy before I returned to the station and met Christine.

Christine went to university with my father in South Africa back in the '60s, but she now lives in Warkworth, a village about halfway between Newcastle and Edinburgh. I spent the next two nights in a bed-&-breakfast on the northern edge of the village, just across the 14th-century footbridge from the rest of the town. (The bridge itself used to carry cars too until they completed the adjoining motor bridge 30 years ago).

Edith, the proprietress of the B&B, was quite the character, hunched over like one of the bigger Muppets with disproportionately large hands and a voice like Terry Jones in drag. Sort of. North Cottage was the B&B's name, and everything was decorated in floral patterns of a somewhat androgynous colour.

Wednesday, August 3

Breakfast at North Cottage with the other boarders was a little awkward for me: I hate being thrust into groups where I don't know anyone and I know nothing of the topics at hand, especially when I might be silently, ignorantly offending someone with my improper breakfast etiquette. On top of all that, I was a few minutes late, and I walked in wearing shorts: the first thing anyone said to me was, "It's raining this morning." Oops.

(Incidentally, it rained every Wednesday I was in England, and on only two occasions did it rain on a non-Wednesday, but that's a different matter altogether.)

Christine rescued me and drove me to a number of sites on the Hadrian's Wall line. First we visited Chesters, an excavated fort that is now little more than a life-size floorplan. A museum on the site housed a lot of Roman finds discovered in Britain, including a block with a rather phallic-looking work of graffiti carved into it that looked exactly like what an old highschool classmate of mine used to do back in the mid-'80s. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

Many of these sites are on private farmland, so sheep are allowed to wander about the ruins and graze. They're rather amusing, actually. They were also roaming about a Mithraic temple Christine & I stopped at on our way to Housesteads. This Mithraic site, about the size of an average living room, just sits on its own in the middle of a big field, with a little footpath running through a sheepgate to a tiny parking lot that juts off the road. No admission, no museum, just a teeny ruin on its own. It was rather cute.

Housesteads was magnificent. The northern wall of this Roman fort is built right into Hadrian's Wall itself, and it's just a sprawl! Rooms of uncertain function are everywhere, as well as some rooms of pretty definite function: latrines! With fully excavated gutters running several feet underground! Oh, baby, did I take photos here or what! For a few fleeting seconds I even visualized seeing my photos in one of my favorite archaeology magazines someday. I had Christine take one photo each of me sitting and standing on the Wall, and you can see it stretching along the edge of the hills in the distance. Too bad the weather ruined the lighting somewhat.

Christine took me to Amble on the North Sea coast for a proper English fish'n'chips dinner. Back in Warkworth, we had a pint or two at the Masons Arms, where one of the roof beams carried a brightly-painted message:

On the 8th of Oct 1715 the earl of derwentwater & 40 of his followers Dined in this house.

I later learned, in a completely different context, that on the 9th of Oct 1715, the lord living in Warkworth Castle publicly declared his allegiance to a particular side in some sort of regional conflict (I forget which, exactly). Gee, might there be a connection?

Thursday, August 4

This morning I didn't find the people at the B&B breakfast table quite so intimidating. In fact, the conversation turned to biblical matters, and it turned out that these people were all Christians -- one of them has even been editing a newsletter for a network of evangelical churches for the past 9 years! (Briefly, I was reminded of The Rolling Stone, which I had let go of before my trip after 4 years of editing it for my church's college-age group.) I was probably the least literal in my interpretation of certain biblical events, but it was a funny coincidence, since religion had never come up the previous morning.

Christine picked me up and we went to the Warkworth church for a morning Communion, and I kept getting lost in the script; I had only done the liturgical thing once before, back in 1985. Afterwards I looked around the church and took a few more pictures. Christine & I then visited Warkworth Castle.

In my five weeks in England, I got the impression that every little village not only has its own set of castle ruins, but each village's castle figures in three lines of a Shakespeare play somewhere. That was the case here, anyway; Warkworth is apparently featured in Henry IV. It was a beautiful castle with a somewhat uncommon light shaft running through the centre; not only does it allow light into the castle, but a tilted floor at the bottom of the shaft collects rain water and lets it flow through little channels that pass through the kitchens and other rooms to wash out the refuse. Like the keep in Newcastle, none of the rooms were furnished or roped off: instead we were allowed to go wherever we wanted, to imagine what it might have been like to live there. (It was unfortunate that I couldn't stay any longer: two days later, English Heritage had planned a mock siege for this castle to re-enact a battle fought back in 1644!)

Christine then drove me along the coastal route, well within view of the North Sea, to Edinburgh. She was going to drop me off at the railway station, but there were no signs to help us find it. This was made even trickier because the railway station is below street level: a valley runs through the centre of the city: on one side, a handsome green park descends from the side of Princes Street that is not clogged with shopping malls, while on the other side, the wall of the valley -- a former man-made lake that was drained a few centuries ago -- rises to the peak of a dead volcano, atop which sits Edinburgh Castle. At the base of this wall, hidden behind some hedges, is the railway itself, and it took us forever to find the entrance.

But we found it. I took a taxi to the only hostel with any beds left: it was essentially two gymnasiums, each fitted with 40 beds, and all for only £5 a night.

It was a 45-minute walk back to the city centre and the imposing citadel looking down on us. I looked around, wrote some more postcards, but didn't do anything spectacular that night. I was just content to soak in the city.

Friday, August 5

Of course, of all the 40 beds in the gym, it was the guy sleeping in the bed right next to mine who had the loud-snoring problem. I was able to ignore it after an hour or so of tossing and turning (somebody else tried to get him to stop, but without success).

I paid my £5 for another night at the hostel, and got Bank of Scotland money as part of my change. I naïvely asked if this currency would be accepted in England, and the two guys behind the counter proceeded to tell me how ignorant the English were, how they sometimes thought that the Scottish £1 note was "foony mooney" (the Bank of England only puts out £1 coins), and how the Bank of England was founded by a Scot in the first place.

I got my Hadrian's Wall roll of film developed at Boots and discovered that my camera tends to produce really dark pictures whenever the sun shines brightly; in addition, despite the fact that I was using 200 ASA film, I would have to set my aperture to 100 to let in enough light for the not-so-sunny pictures. Not a shutterbug's idea of stress-free bliss!

I caught a Guide Friday double-decker tour bus -- the green & cream buses, if you know what I'm referring to -- to get a sense of what all was spread around Edinburgh. I discovered that I happened to be in Edinburgh just in time for the opening night of the Military Tattoo, so I bought a ticket for it as soon as the tour bus had finished its circuit. I also discovered how vertiginous I can be when I climbed the 287 steps up the Walter Scott monument, and let me say, that was one narrow stairwell, particularly near the top! There was barely enough room for me, let alone anyone trying to go down. But the verandas offered some beautiful views of the city and the geography beyond.

On my way to a "Ghosts & Gore" walking tour that was put on by The Witchery, I visited a pub to use their toilet. On my way out, I noticed that the t.v. above the bar was showing ... Happy Days. Oh, brudda!

The walking tour itself was very good, entertaining and informative at the same time. One of the more bizarre revelations was that John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, is now buried just outside St. Giles Cathedral underneath parking stall #44.

Right after the tour, I joined the throng going to the Military Tattoo, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Let's Go! warned that you ought to be prepared to sit next to "a middle-aged couple from Maryland"; well, I got a middle-aged man from California. The music was terrific, and I was deeply impressed by the great show of patriotism, which is odd, since attempts at home to foster patriotism in we Canadians have always jacked up my cynicism and the cynicism of pretty much every Canadian I know. But the Tattoo moved me anyways. The Tattoo itself had something to do with the 200th anniversary of the Gordon Highlanders, with a tacit reference to the 500th anniversary of Scotch whiskey. (And the Delta Police Band from British Columbia had a part in the programme!)

Saturday, August 6

I picked up a copy of The Scotsman for Byrun, since he collects newspapers; it had the best review I have seen yet for The Piano, and this was from its top-ten list!:

[Holly] Hunter shuts up and finds sex in wood.

Well, I liked it, anyway. The headlines were all about an air attack on the Serbs; The Herald proclaimed:

NATO raids teach Serbs a lesson

Well, I'm very grateful that British papers dare to have personality, but something in that headline seems amiss. Smug, maybe? Neo-imperialist? Whatever.

I caught a train to Inverness, where the cheapest accomodation of any sort that I could find was a £32 "hotel" that closely resembled a B&B. Oh well, at least it was en suite.

Tucked away in the Scottish highlands, Inverness was probably the most beautiful place I saw in my entire travels. I very much want to go back sometime. If I went looking for things to do, I might get bored there very quickly compared to a festival-happy city like Edinburgh (the International, Film, Jazz, and Fringe Festivals all happen in August), but it was, for me, the most relaxing city. The River Ness cuts through Inverness and there's a lovely park stretched along both sides of the stream. The reconstructed mini-castle near the city centre is rather bland, but I didn't care. And the accents were just beautiful! Someone later asked me if it was true that the people in this part of Scotland spoke the most beautiful English in the world, and while I hadn't thought of it in those terms yet, I had to say "yes". Beautiful accents!

Sunday, August 7

Breakfast at the "hotel" reminded me of Fawlty Towers, no matter how hard I tried not to think of the show (just thinking of it sent me into fits of grinning). The people were very polite, but in such a British manner of politeness, y'know? (Oddly enough, the proprietress of this Scottish hotel had something of an Australian accent: go figure.)

I had a choice between two tour buses: one included a tour of Urquhart Castle, which was blown up back in 1692 and left in ruins ever since; the other included a half-hour cruise on Loch Ness. As if I really had a choice: the cruise! the curise! the cruise! I'd seen enough of castles by this point, and I realized it had been almost a year since the last time I had been on the water. It was also a bright, beautiful, sunny day, and my memories of the loch that day are totally flawless. It's a wonderful lake, lined entirely by forests on both sides; all the land is owned by one man, a Lord Burton, who refuses to let the land be "developed" (or so said the tour guides). Even my photos turned out wonderfully.

And no, I didn't see the Monster. But I wasn't even looking: the loch itself was just too gorgeous.

Back in Inverness, I went for one last walk along the river, and came across a man wearing a "die-hard Vancouver Canucks fan" T-shirt! I asked if he was from Vancouver ... and I couldn't make out a word of his answer, his Scottish accent was so thick! It turned out that he'd bought the shirt when he happened to be visiting Vancouver during the play-offs last May. I think.

I then caught the overnight train to London.

Monday, August 8

I arrived in London early and awake this time, and on a weekday to boot! This time I intended to tour the city properly, so I started with a trip to St. Paul's Cathedral, where I found T. E. Lawrence's memorial bust -- the one that appears during his funeral at the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia -- in the crypt (opposite George Washington's bust, for some odd reason). I also paid the extra £2 and climbed the stairs to the Whispering Gallery, where rumour has it you can hear the words being spoken by people talking into the wall directly across from you. Well, I tried it with a Japanese tourist I met, but we couldn't figure it out. There were more staircases leading to outside verandas, and they offered far-ranging views of London itself.

I then caught the Tube to the British Museum, and had a leisurely 2½-hour stroll through the Oriental Antiquities collections. I also saw some of the old documents at the British Library, plus some not-so-old: they already had a display devoted to the South African election of 1994, complete with party pamphlets and everything. I have now finally beheld the original flood tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Egyptian papyrus with the Tale of Two Brothers, and numerous other artifacts. The one that totally blew me away -- I hadn't realized it would be here! -- was the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, and I promptly got someone to snap a picture of me standing next to it. The Obelisk is significant because it lists and depicts a number of kings as they pay tribute to the Assyrians, including King Jehu of Israel! Thus, this Obelisk has, to our present knowledge, the only contemporary portrait of any Israelite or Judean king! What's really ironic about it is that it refers to Jehu as "the son of Omri", since that was how the Assyrians remembered which country he came from ... but Jehu became king by wiping out Omri's entire dynasty! (The gory details are all in chapters 9 & 10 of II Kings; Ahab was Omri's son and succesor, I Kings 16:28-29.)

The one thing that would have made the Museum more perfect would have been the Mesha Stele, but that's in Paris.

I walked past Piccadilly Circus and did not like it. It was all fumes, smog, crowds, noise, and bright gigantic neon signs, like every nightmare I've ever had of going to New York. I consciously avoided this place on my next trip to London.

From there I visited the National Gallery and "did the culture thing" for half an hour, checking out the various paintings before the Gallery closed. I walked across the street to take a few pictures of Trafalgar Square ... and I bumped into Rick again! His partner had returned to Vancouver, but Rick was still in London, seeing a different musical every night. (Rick's got a strange fixation with Broadway-type musicals; he has a copy of the Norwegian cast recording of Oliver!)

I wanted to walk by Westminster Abbey, but I took a wrong turn and ended up walking through St. James Park. I caught the Tube to Paddington Station (outside of which I spotted my first 7-Eleven!) and caught the train to Oxford, where I spent the night at another hostel. There I met an American from Michigan who couldn't get enough of the salt'n'vinegar chips, a flavour that Americans are apparently forced to live without (in Canada, it's as vital to the potato chip industry as vanilla is to the ice cream industry). When he found out I was from Vancouver, he said he'd been cheering the Canucks against the Rangers: "Pavel Buré's a stud!" he declared. Hmmm, I'd never thought of it like that before ...

Tuesday, August 9

Of course, I had to start my day at the Eagle & Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and the other Inklings used to meet every Tuesday morning to discuss their latest story ideas. It's actually a good pub with a good reputation, and I quite enjoyed my lunch there. I also checked out Magdalen (pronounced "Maudlin") College, where C.S. Lewis taught from the 1920s until 1954. It's amazing how shamelessly some places are cashing in on the publicity generated by Shadowlands. Lewis left Magdalen College for Cambridge in 1954 because the Oxford sorts were uncomfortable with his open Christianity, but now these places in Oxford are cashing in on his name because of a movie that covers the time in his life when he taught at Cambridge!

I also checked out Jesus College, where T.E. Lawrence went to school in his late teens and early 20's. At the Ashmolean Museum, I discovered four proto-Philistine artifacts donated to the museum by T.E. Lawrence. (The Ashmolean, incidentally, has a much better Palestinian collection than the British Museum. Or so I think.)

I regretted the fact that (a) I didn't have the transportation to visit any of the far-flung cemeteries, and (b) I hadn't remembered to make a note of Lawrence's original home address, since he grew up in Oxford. Oh well, no matter.

I caught the train to Coventry, and from there I caught a bus to Warwick University, which would be my home for the next 23 days. We had a big meeting to figure out where everyone would spend the night, and I was one of three people that got to share a flat with the field director's family (his name was Jeff, his wife's Daphne).

And so I made myself at home.

Wednesday, August 10

Keeping in mind that it takes me about half an hour to hear my alarm clock at the best of times, I had set mine to 7:45am. I needn't have bothered: the noise of the children, three of them between the ages of 6 and 1½, woke me up minutes before my clock went off. And so it went for the next few weeks. It didn't bother me so much, but my flatmates Hedda and especially Linda were light sleepers who had a hard time coping with the noise; the fact that these were comparatively underdisciplined children didn't help matters. Navnit, whose room in Flat 2 shared a wall with our flat, said the children interrupted her sleep too, and she reportedly asked for the same £38 price reduction that had already been promised Hedda, Linda, and myself.

The pattern for the next few weeks was to catch our bus at 9:15 and arrive at the Lunt, a partly-reconstructed Roman turf-and-timber fort in a village called Baginton, on the outskirts of Coventry, around 9:30. We would have a half-hour tea at 11:00 and 3:30, with a one-hour lunch between teas at 1:00, and at 5:15 we would "clean up our loose" and catch the bus back to the university.

On this, our first day, the typical Wednesday drizzle was coming down, so we sat inside the Granary -- a reconstructed Roman storeroom that doubled as a museum -- and Tony, our UBC professor, gave us a background lecture on the Romans in Britain. Then Margaret, an administrator responsible for the Lunt, took us outside to give us an introductory tour of the fort. The eastern wall, complete with ditch, gate-tower, and turf-and-timber ramparts, had been rebuilt since excavations began at the Lunt back in the 1960s; ditto a circular feature dubbed "the Gyrus". Margaret explained that the Gyrus was probably used to break or train horses, either the Romans' or those captured in the aftermath of the Boadicean revolt. She led us into the middle of the Gyrus and clapped her hands; the sharp echo that resulted, she said, was probably meant to resemble the sounds of warfare.

It was about noon when we gathered around Jeff, our field director, behind the trailer. He asked if Margaret had explained the equine nature of the Gyrus to us, and we all nodded. "Well," he said, "I don't believe a word of it. Not for a moment." Jeff noted that the entrance to the Gyrus did not point to the gate as one might expect, but it pointed away from the gate and directly into the barracks! This is, admittedly, a strange route along which to lead horses into their training ground, so he thinks the Gyrus was used to hold prisoners. Thus exposed to the difficulties of interpretation -- and before we had even set foot on the actual ground to be excavated! -- we were dispersed to gather our trowels, buckets, kneeling pads, and hand shovels. (Sue, the trowelling supervisor, turned to someone and said the best Gyrus theory she had heard was that it was a giant cheesecake mold.)

Four or five guys volunteered to clear out the trench, which had been filled by the last team two years ago; plastic sheets lay under the fill to keep it separate from the trench itself. One, a student from Quebec named David, had a short beard and wore suspenders and a floppy straw hat; the sight of him striking his pick into the ground earned him the nickname "the Amish".

The rest of us started working the trowel line and had to face two years' worth of weeds and other growths. "Be brutal!" Sue told us. "Be careful!" Hedda told us an hour later. And so it went.

I was glad to see the end of the working day at 5:15. A number of us went to Tesco, the nearest grocery store, and stocked up. Some of the labels were rather amusing: Kellogg's Sultana Bran took the place of Raisin Bran, but the funniest by far was a box of fish-sticks that boasted:

4 Faggots in a Rich, Creamy, Country Sauce!

Then there were the potato chips, or "crisps", as they are called: I rather liked the Roast Chicken crisps, but the Roast Beef & Mustard flavour was just revolting!

After taking the exchange rate into account, beer and chocolate soon emerged as the only foodstuffs cheaper in England than in Canada: needless to say, over the course of the next 3 weeks, we all came down with hangovers and/or mild cases of acne. I can't stand beer, so I couldn't compare prices exactly, but chocolate bars that cost 90¢ or more at home cost 27p (about 59¢) or so in the English corner shops. My favorite was easily the bar made with Terry's orange chocolate in the shape of 6 orange slices, all for a mere 30p.

Thursday, August 11

After morning tea, Margaret led us in a lecture on how to analyze pottery. That kept us until lunch. A girl named January started taking lots of photos; she had brought 17 rolls of film with her to England and was determined to use them all up before going home. And, indeed, by the end of the course she said she needed to buy more film. Sue nicknamed her "Trigger", but it didn't stick.

Ah, nicknames. Because Sue was "God" on our site -- "I like the power," she said with a smile -- people started matching the rest of our supervisors to saints and deities and the like. Hedda became "Christ", and Rochelle was "John the Baptist". Atanas, a buzz-cut UBC student with a sharply-defined goatie, was quickly dubbed "Beelzebub" and then "Satanas".

(A week or two later, Jeff objected to being left out of the pantheon, so the names were adjusted slightly. Jeff was "God" now, Sue was "Christ", and Hedda and Rochelle were left to divide the saints between them. Someone asked where this left Tony, the UBC professor who we almost never saw on site, but whose job it was to actually give us our marks at the end of it all. I suggested he was the "Holy Spirit": "You can't see him, but you see what he does.")

The "brutal"/"careful" trowelling debate was given a new spin when Sue told me to "be gently brutal" with the soil. I actually uncovered a tiny stash of cow's teeth: as one might expect, I didn't realize they were there until my trowel cut right through one of them. They were bagged & tagged, and the students assigned to do the surveying marked how high my find had been above sea level.

A bunch of us went to the pub that night, and I ordered the first of many pints of Pepsi. According to the telly, Peter Cushing had died earlier in the day. They showed scenes from many of his films, including Hound of the Baskervilles, but not Star Wars. Oh well. Rick excused himself and asked where the "washroom" was, and Simon (the planning supervisor) laughed and exclaimed between drags on his cigarette, "What's with the fucking euphemism? The last thing you're going to do is wash in there! It's the loo! The crapper! The shitter! God, I can't stand these fucking euphemisms, like that other word, 'bathroom'! You're not taking a bath in there!"

Friday, August 12

No opening spiels today: we spent our entire day trowelling, trowelling, and trowelling. During our break, I phoned the Greenbelt office to find out when the shuttlebuses would be running between Kettering and the Greenbelt festival, two weeks into the future. Sue overheard, and I discovered that she was once asked to play conga drums at Greenbelt for the Hot House Flowers, but a friend of hers got the job instead. "That's my one memory of Greenbelt," she said somewhat facetiously, "as my missed opportunity."

Where I had found the teeth yesterday, Cynthia now discovered about half of an animal skeleton. Linda P. found a fairly big piece of a pot's rim, which Jeff said might be early-medieval Anglo-Saxon. I found nothing. Jeff and Sue spotted a circular feature in the trowelled ground from their vantage point on top of the spoil heap. I couldn't see it from the ground, but when I climbed the spoil heap myself, I too could make out a circle in the soil. Sue placed a "ranging rod" in the centre of the circle and roped that square off.

I went to the "Friday Bop" in the students' building, pint of Pepsi in hand, for a vicarious night-clubbing experience. After some time had passed, Liz approached me at the table and asked why I hadn't danced yet. Simple, I answered: "I'm outnumbered." I forgot to mention that I was also sober. "Oh, well I hate dancing too," she said, "you don't have to like it!" At which point she dragged me onto the floor, the first time I'd danced in, oh, 2½ years.

Saturday, August 13

Pam, Liz, Derek (nicknamed "ACE" for "All-Canadian Boy"; it didn't make sense to me either), and myself volunteered for Simon's course on how to "plan": i.e., how to draw the surface of a site to scale, with the help of a grid-marker.

Simon himself had been the one person late for work that day, slightly hung over after last night's "Bop". (He had also fallen on some glass and cut his elbow; fortunately for him, at least 4 UBC nursing students were at the "Bop" too.) Tony poked his head into the trailer to tell us that he was going to have to talk to Simon "sometime in the near future." Later, when he asked which students were interested in going to church the next day, he told us to "say a prayer for Simon."

I thought planning would be fairly easy, especially with the grids to help me. But ... since I was basicly drawing the boundaries between soil colours, and since the boundaries were so blurred, I had no idea what I was doing. More and more, it looked like I may have very few skills that would be of much use on a professional archaeological dig.

Jeff & Daphne went out to visit some friends in Cambridge (!) that night, and they got Hedda & Sue to baby-sit for them. Linda pulled out a wine bottle after the children had gone to bed (though it took 18-month-old Jane some coaxing) and the four of us talked for hours by candlelight.

Sunday, August 14

Tony gave myself and five others a ride to the Baginton parish church, a 13th-century building founded by a knight who figures in three lines of Richard III or some such play -- yes, he even has a castle in ruins somewhere over the hill from the church. Patches of old wall-paintings had survived the iconoclastic attempts of whitewashing Reformers, and very few memorial plaques did not mention one of several generations of William Bromleys.

The service was played out of the same liturgical booklet that the church in Warkworth had used, but every now and then the mostly-female-middle-aged congregation would break into brief snippets of song that weren't in the script! (A scene from Beneath the Planet of the Apes came to mind.) In an amusing twist, the service ended with Graham Kendrick's "Shine, Jesus, Shine": in Canada I usually hear this song performed by worship bands with a drumkit (usually played by Trent or Suseh) and several guitars, but here it was warbled rather solemnly to an old-fashioned organ. I couldn't help grinning widely.

We were invited next-door for tea & coffee. One woman asked if we were part of the dig: she asked if Jeff was back, and someone else whose name she couldn't remember. "Tony Barrett?" I suggested. "That's him," she said, "the one who sorts the food. Is he back? Say 'hi' to him for me." The one who sorts the food? I laughed and passed this on to Nancy and Maria, and we thought we just might be on the verge of solving that age-old question: What does Tony do?

Back at the dig, Sue had us re-excavate a pit that had been filled in two years ago. At the bottom, we found Jeff's whistle, which the previous class had kidnapped and held for ransom. Simon bought a newspaper and got Jonathan -- a 10-year-old archaeology buff who has worked with the Lunt students every summer since he was 6! -- to pose with the newspaper and the whistle behind the spoil heap; my roll of film was almost finished, so I took the photo. Sue tried to show the roped-off circular feature to some people who hadn't seen it yet, but they couldn't make it out. Sue got the water-tank backpack and wetted the square to enhance the soil features. Still they couldn't see it. I joined them and was a little surprised to find that, despite the fact that I had seen the circle two days ago and should know where to look for it, now I couldn't make it out at all. "Wait 'til it dries a bit," Sue suggested. "Right now it's too wet." But no amount of finesse worked. The circle was gone, and some people refused to believe it had ever been there, even after I told them I had seen something there a few days before.

That night, Jeff and Andy (the supervisor in charge of "small finds", "small" being just about anything smaller than a house) joined the rest of us at the pub. Sue said she had bought our tickets for the upcoming Shakespeare play; Andy said he couldn't see what all the fuss was over. "They're just plays, plays, plays," he said. When the pub closed, most of us walked across the street and through the broken fence onto "The Beanfield", a little-used field that was home to many late-night drinking sessions. Groups went to The Beanfield almost every night, but this was the only night I myself paid a visit. On this night, we spent much of our time trying to explain the concept of Saturday Night Live to Simon, who didn't see the point of it all. Laura, meanwhile, practiced channeling Roman soldiers; I suggested she channel a horse. The light from a plane flew by and someone suggested it might be a UFO; Simon waved his guitar at it and yelled, "Fuck me!" which I didn't think was very hospitable to these otherworldly visitors.

... You had to be there.

Monday, August 15

My teeth were caked with dust, it was so dry that day; at least, that's what a few people told me. We couldn't be sure if our nasal problems were the result of the dust or the allergies. Trowelling the soil at this temperature was murder: it was so tough and hard, unlike the wet soil that curled off of the ground at the slightest touch of our trowels.

A reporter from the Coventry Evening Telegraph paid us a visit; so did the local BBC radio station, which interviewed the nurses and got "Beelzebub" to do an Elvis impersonation in honour of the next day's anniversary of Elvis's death.

By this point I was getting desparate for mail, and to get me off his back, Tony delegated the task of fetching the mail to me, so he introduced me to the folks at the Baginton post office. And, to celebrate the end of our first week at Warwick University, there was a run on the laundry machines.

Tuesday, August 16

On this, our first day away from the Lunt in a week, Tony took us all on an excursion to Oxford. We rented some punting boats and made our way down the river to Parsons Pleasure, a small park that was a nudist beach for aging professors until just two years ago. I was in Tony's boat, and he was a truly excellent punter. Navnit tried it because it was her birthday, and so did Linda. I gave it a go too, but ran us into the bank. Twice. Tony took over and got us back safely, though we were passed by two boats that had joined together so the punters therein could hear Atanas -- a.k.a. "Beelzebub" -- read portions of Dante's Inferno aloud to them. Pretentious? Naaaah ...

I had already seen most of what I wanted to see in Oxford a week before, so I just roamed the streets and got my film developed before returning to the Ashmolean for a closer look at some of the artifacts.

The bus then took us to Blenheim Palace, which, according to Tony, was built for the first Duke of Marlborough as a prize "for killing a lot of Frenchmen" in the Netherlands in a battle over the Spanish succession in 1704. Yeah, sure, that makes a heckuva lot of sense to me ... not.

From there we made our way to the Rollright Stones, a prehistoric circle of stones of uncertain number: rumour has it you will never count the same number twice. Several people rented dowsing roads to look for laylines; one person discovered that, if you hold one in each hand, they will start pointing to each other as soon as you get close to one of the boulders. Weird.

Back at the university, I bought a copy of the Telegraph with the article about our dig. We all got a good laugh out of its reference to our regimen of "eight hours a day of back-breaking work"; Jeff was particularly amused by it. A bunch of us ended up wandering over to Flat 7 for one of the strangest late-night conversations I'd ever heard of. It began with Laura asking each guy, "If your girlfriend was just a head on a leg, would you still go out with her?" Then Frank told stories of blowing up beaver dams when he was a child, and finally somebody discussed the superiority of G.I. Joe action figures over Star Wars figures for "humping": "G.I. Joe could spread his legs, but Star Wars figures could only do it doggie-style."

... You had to be there.

Wednesday, August 17

It was a Wednesday, so it was time for strong winds and rains to blow our stuff around and chase us off the site for fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there.

I was given the task of clipping the overgrown weeds away from the western side of the site, a task I relished. No mucking about with "gentle brutality" here: I was on a rampage to kill unwanted vegetation, tossing the dismembered bits into the air for the wind to carry them away!

At lunch, Sue and Rochelle posted the picture of Jonathan with the whistle on the window of the trailer, with a sign made of letters clipped from newspaper headlines:

JefF: We Want 8 cans of BeeR and A Box of Boost in the caravan or THE whIsTle gets IT (and the Kid).

Jeff saw it, but went on his way without any visible reaction.

Thursday, August 18

A bunch of us volunteered to listen to Tony's lecture on section-drawing, the vertical equivalent of planning. Nancy and I were the first to volunteer to actually draw a section -- anything to get away from the dreariness of the trowel line! Nancy stood in the trench and pointed to the features she spotted, and Sue suggested that I sit a few feet away to get a different point-of-view to balance Nancy's. Naturally, Kosta came by shortly afterwards and told me to get in the trench myself so I could "get in the action"; it was one of a number of methodological approaches that Sue and Kosta disagreed on.

That night almost all of us went to Statford-on-Avon to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. That has got to be one of the weirdest and most surreal things Shakespeare ever did, and the performance was fairly sexual too ... and is there any significance, I wonder, to a character named "Bottom" being turned into an "ass"? It was a funny play, but I thought the play-within-a-play in the last act was a little long and anti-climactic. The fellow playing Puck reminded me of a bald Dennis Miller.

Friday, August 19

It dawned on me that commuting between Coventry and Greenbelt was not going to be easy; in fact, it would probably be counter-productive, as I would probably have to leave early and miss a lot of bands. But where to stay? My ticket to Greenbelt included camping facilities, but I didn't have a tent ... Then it clicked. What if I borrowed one from Bernie & Cefaye? I was going to London this weekend anyway, and they didn't live too far away. So I phoned them up, and they said I could borrow one of Tim's.

More trowelling, more wetting, and still I didn't find anything new. Nothing since the cow's teeth.

Saturday, August 20

Bernie was in good health when I met him at the Stevenage rail station to borrow his tent. His parents live in Coventry, so he gave me their address and said I could just leave it with them when I was done. I made my way back to London and dropped the tent off at the Earls Court hostel ...

... and I barely made it in time to meet my friend Kathy at the British Museum. She was stopping over in London on her way to Prague, where she'll spend a year teaching English, and we had agreed to meet by the Rosetta Stone. I was actually 20 minutes late, and she was about to leave the museum: if I had been six inches further away, she says, she wouldn't have spotted me and we would have missed each other completely.

Kathy felt like taking in a musical, so we found the scalpers at Leicester Square and bought tickets to Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre for £15 apiece; this was the first time I'd ever bought anything from a scalper! I hadn't seen Les Mis since it first came to Vancouver 4 years ago, and it was just as wonderful the second time! It's been playing in London for 9 years now, so it doesn't have the sense of "event" that it has about it whenever it comes to Vancouver, but the theatre was still pretty much packed. (Now if only it had been air-conditioned ... ) I asked an usher who was whistling one of the Les Mis tunes if he could see himself ever getting sick of the music; no, he said, because the music was too good, he had only been working there a month so far, he had been a fan long before he started working there, and with all the understudies, there was always some variety.

Kathy and I then went to our respective hostels.

Sunday, August 21

I met Kathy in the Underground station and caught the Tube to Heathrow Airport, where I saw her off at 10:30am.

Three hours later, Eileen's plane arrived. She and her friend Donna were stopping over on their way to Zaire, where they will be teaching missionary children for at least the next year.

They had about seven hours to kill, and Eileen wanted to see the British Museum and Buckingham Palace, so off we went. I was a little dismayed to see how casual I had become on this, my fourth trip to the Museum; it brought to mind Corey, the American I met at the EuroTower, three weeks ago -- three weeks already? my brain double-taked -- and how he said he had become "desensitized" by his exposure to ancient ruins.

I then led Eileen and Donna on a short walking tour of London. I noticed that an engraving on the University College Hospital gave its founding date as "MDCCCCV": shouldn't that be "MCMV"? I also spotted the Bonham-Carter House, the site where anaesthetics were first used in England, and wondered if a certain Helena was related to this place at all.

We made our way to Trafalgar Square, and this time I did not get lost: we walked down Whitehall, peeked through the gate and the security guards that blocked off Downing Street, where the British Prime Minister lives, and made a right turn at Big Ben. We walked along the other side of St. James Park and, finally, arrived at Buckingham Palace.

Now, until this point, it had been a matter of pride for myself and some others on the dig that we had not given in to the tourist hype and gone to Buckingham, and I couldn't help feeling like my integrity had been compromised. The Queen wasn't even in residence: she was back in my home province of British Columbia, opening the Commonwealth Games! But Eileen said she needed a picture of herself with the palace in the background to send home to her brother, a devoted follower of the royal family, just to make him jealous. (It's amazing how much tourism is fuelled not by a desire to see or do something, but by a desire to make someone else jealous. I know a few of my own travels were done with similar motives in mind.) To restore this smidgen of wounded pride, I made a point of pointing my camera away from the palace and taking a picture of Eileen and Donna in that general direction, but not taking a picture of the palace itself.

I got back to Coventry early enough to spend an hour at the pub, and everyone had stories of the places they had travelled to that weekend. A surprising number of people had also been in London, in the British Museum even, but I hadn't seen any of them, though Rick had seen me with the two girls outside Buckingham when he passed it in a taxi! I can't go to London, it seems, without Rick spotting me.

Monday, August 22

I sat next to David on the bus. "How was your weekend?" he asked. "Good!" I said. "Shut up!" "Oh, can I assume your weekend wasn't that good?" Apparently he and some others had hoped to catch a train to Chester, but the people at the railway station gave them shit and their plans fizzled out.

Back on the trowelling line, I discovered that two days of inactivity had re-tensed my joints, particularly my knees, which had gotten fairly used to the work by the previous Friday.

I got a letter from Trent & Colette. Trent suggested that I use my flight home as an opportunity to stop over in New York or someplace and visit as many Pheeners as I could ... but I knew I wouldn't have the time or the money to do so; it was quite impossible.

Sue bought a trowel for Jonathan, the 10-year-old, and got Atanas to engrave it. Jonathan was standing just off the site, by the spoil heap, where he was in charge of the sifting. Sue put the trowel in a plastic bag and buried it in a bucket of dirt, which she sent to the sifting line. All of us on the site watched quietly as Jonathan, oblivious to our attentions, poured the contents of the bucket onto the sieve and, quizically, opened the plastic bag. He pulled the trowel out, and we all started cheering. "Thank you ever so much," he said, staring fondly at the engraving. "This is ever so cool."

Another night at the pub, another night by the pool tables. And another night for certain members of our expedition to crank up the ABBA tunes on the CD jukebox (gag!). If I ever hear ABBA again, I will think of the Lunt, for better or worse.

Tuesday, August 23

Trowelling, trowelling, trowelling.

Kosta and Linda P. sparred as usual, Linda calling Kosta a "slut" between giggles. Kosta, shaking his head, said that Linda -- his nickname for her was "Evil", and it caught on -- had insulted his girlfriend: not true, Linda replied, "I only said that I couldn't believe a human being would go out with you!" Trowelling with these people was never dull.

Kosta had grown up in Banff, a ski resort in the Rockies, and he began to tell us how he & his friends would ask ski bimbos if they could touch their elbows behind their backs, then laugh as the bimbos inadvertently thrust their chests out. Jonathan said he would have to try this out on the girls in the "top form" at school. Linda said she couldn't believe that Kosta would pollute such a young child's mind. I asked Jonathan if he thought this was patronizing, and he said he did. "But he's only ten years old!" Linda laughed. Jonathan feigned indignance. "Anyone would mistake you for ten!" he said, referring either to her giggles or her height (or lack thereof).

Inga joined the trowel line and asked each of us which three animals we would like to be. I picked the hummingbird, for the speed and precision of its flight, but couldn't think of any others. Jennifer picked the eagle for the ease with which it glides. Kosta picked the dolphin, the slug ... and the bonobo! Inga had never heard of bonobos before, so before Kosta had a chance to explain, I told her Kosta wanted to be "a libidinous, sex-crazed monkey." He protested and said that wasn't true, that he liked the organization of bonobo society, but hey, I read all about these critters in Discover's sex issue two years ago.

After a week or two of shouting "Clean up your loose!" at the end of the day, Sue began to dabble with variations: today's was "Clean up your losers!" (Later ones included "Clean up your goose!" and "Go hug a moose!")

I had to see at least one film while I was in England, so I went to the Arts Centre that night with Jennifer and Melodie and took in Remains of the Day. Beautiful movie.

Wednesday, August 24

On this, my last day of trowelling, I finally discovered a small piece of pottery, about the size of a quarter and not quite ¼" thick: dark and blackish on one side, but a fairly bright orange on the other. And thus I finally overcame what Kosta called "the Barren Curse". I also found two bits of daub, but I'm still not exactly sure what daub is. All I know is it's reddish and lumpy stuff.

Being a Wednesday, it rained very heavily, leaving great puddles and soil so damp we couldn't work on it for fear of messing up whatever finds might be hidden inside.

The wet soil was also perfect for trowel-tossing, and several people began to play a little game: Two people face each other and take turns tossing their trowels into the ground. If the blade sticks in the ground and holds the handle in the air, the other person has to place their nearest foot on that spot. The object is to make the other person lose their balance, or do the splits, whichever is more humiliating. If the blade doesn't stick, but simply falls flat on the ground, the person throwing it has forfeited their turn. To stand upright again, feet together, you must throw your trowel between your opponent's feet and hope it sticks. And so we played.

I also learned a new expression. I told Jonathan he was "flying low", and at first he didn't understand what I meant. Once he had figured it out, he told me the English equivalent was "flying without a license".

In one of those odd moments when the smallest of plans begins to sound exciting, Jennifer said she had the urge to make Jell-O, and I went looking for ingredients. Jennifer said she didn't have the proper tools with which to whip the cream, so I asked the cashiers at the nearby grocery if they had any whipped cream, as opposed to whipping cream. One said, "No, of course not," while the other told her, "Oh, they probably do in America ... or wherever it is you're from." "They do? How lazy can you get!" With Byrun's advice in mind ("Remember, if they call you American, act offended"), I mock-whimpered, "Please don't call us American." One cashier took the opportunity to tell me that, yes, Canadians do have a "softer" accent than Americans after all, while the other said, "Yes, I see, we wouldn't want anyone to assume we were from Birmingham because of our accent." (Birmingham is only a half-hour's drive away.) They asked me what I thought of England -- "be honest" -- and whether I had ever been there before, and that led me into yet another discussion of how I still hadn't spotted any three-wheeled cars. And, at the end of it all, I bought the whipping cream.

Thursday, August 25

Andrew summoned the last batch of surveyors, which happened to include me, and explained the logistics of it all. I was talking to Rick and Kosta about children's t.v. shows when Kosta remarked, "Big Bird's just a pansy. I think it's all latent homosexuality." Rick replied that he never thought of Big Bird as having a gender, and to support Big Bird's sexual ambivalence, I said I seemed to recall that Big Bird's puppeteer went by the gender-neutral first name Carol(l). Kosta then started talking about some "hippie caravan" kids show whose main theme was based on a Rolling Stones tune, but neither Rick nor I knew what he was talking about. Kosta then started going around to everyone on the site, la-la-la-ing the theme and asking them if they knew about this terrific show from his youth, but no one else seemed to recognize it.

I asked Rick what he thought of Kosta's earlier remark. "I've heard worse," he said. "I just assumed that he didn't know [that Rick is gay]. I haven't kept it a secret, all my roommates know." "But you haven't gone out advertising the fact?" I said facetiously. "No," Rick said, "I haven't got the T-shirts printed yet."

After lunch, I got to go surveying with the four nurses: Maria, Nancy, Navnit, and "Evil". We started at the Baginton school, and measured the distance between its level marker and the nearby one on the parish church. We weren't quite accurate, but we decided to plow ahead anyway. Our task was to take measurements down the two or three streets that led to the Lunt, and finally measure the level of the Granary. Navnit and I started talking to a 6-year-old girl who was playing in her front lawn while we held the measuring stick. A white-haired man -- presumably the girl's father or grandfather -- emerged from the house, remarked that it was a very hot day, and gave us a beer! We later heard that this was not an uncommon occurence: it seemed typical of the friendly, generous people that we encountered in Baginton.

That night in Flat 4, Jennifer and I put the jelly together while a stream of students passed through to look at all the photos, mostly mine and January's.

Tony came by too, and got into a lively discussion with Inga about "gossip" vs. objective inquiry: this was prompted by the recent allegations in the various news sources that Princess Diana was harrassing people over the phone, but moved into a discussion of Suetonius and Tacitus and other ancient sources.

The discussion got considerably livelier when someone brought up "multiculturalism" (I forget why) and Tony told us what a "fraud" the whole "multiculturalism" agenda was. Case in point: spouse-beating appears to be not uncommon among immigrants from India who move to Canada, and one might say this has historic roots in their culture, but we don't allow them to exercise that form of cultural expression in our country. Ditto arranged marriages. And, someone pointed out, it is illegal to cook dogs for food in Canada, despite the fact that dogs are a staple of the Oriental diet, and despite the fact that a large number of Orientals regularly migrate to Canada. Multiculturalism certainly thrives in "irrelevant surface matters" such as clothing and dances, Tony said, but not when it comes to how people conduct their everyday lives. From there the conversation moved into the whole should-Sikhs-be-allowed-to-wear-turbans-in-the-RCMP debate, and things got really animated.

And the jelly was pretty good too.

Friday, August 26

I got up an hour earlier than usual to catch the first bus to the train station. And the kids were up and making noise already. Had I been sleeping through an hour or more of this noise all these mornings?

The train to Kettering was very indirect and I had to change trains twice. From there I caught the first shuttlebus to Greenbelt, where I arrived about 12:00 noon. I realized that, even with Bernie's instructions, I had no idea what I was doing with the tent, so I asked a passing couple for assistance. Not only did they erect the tent with me, but they invited me over to theirs for a mug of soup and some biscuits. It was 2:00pm before I finally got my wristband and walked through the fence into the Greenbelt "village".

How to describe the Greenbelt Arts Festival? There were seminars all morning, bands and solo artists all night, and at any given moment at least seven different things were happening, plus there were the on-going art galleries and performance cafés and the like, even a massage therapist!

Besides the many concerts, you could also attend plays, watch films (you had your pick of The Piano, A Perfect World, The Secret Garden, and Leap of Faith), paint your own triptych, cut your own painted glass, listen to poetry readings, attend classical music performances in the Deene parish church, go dancing at The Rolling Magazine (motto: "God makes love"), worship in the afternoon with Graham Kendrick's band or at Matins with some Franciscan monks, even take part in a car rally!

But first the seminars. I attended two on homosexuality: John Peck was torn between the differing interpretations and couldn't quite decide which was the correct one, while John Bell toed the liberal party line and dropped a number of red herrings into his discourse. I noted that the other gay-related items in the program were all slanted in favour of homosexuality; with the possible exception of John Peck, no one seemed willing to admit that the issue is still very much a debatable one within the church. As far as Greenbelt seemed to be concerned, the issue is closed.

Indeed, the entire attitude towards sexual matters at Greenbelt was a far cry from what one might expect of a Christian festival. A number of Christians would be willing to accept a gay relationship if it was permanent and monogamous, but John Bell went so far as to question the very need for monogamy of any kind, even in heterosexual relationships. People stood outside the church distributing gay-rights pamphlets. Another seminar had "erotic prayer" as its subject, and another promised to discuss "sex outside marriage, gay/lesbian relationships, sexual friendships, and other aspects of sexuality in the light of a renewed Trinitarian theology". The Southern Baptist Convention, this wasn't.

After a good dose of this, I wasn't surprised to see a tent named "The Hothouse" feature a Q&A session with a professional astrologer, who spoke on "real astrology, that is, mathematical astrology" and not the weird mystical stuff. Once her lecture was finished, I joined the enormous line-up building outside another tent for a panel featuring Russ Parker, Eric Delve, and Adrian Plass, one of the most popular Christian writers in England, and a very funny one to boot, with a voice like Rowan Atkinson whenever he feigned anger. (His fame-making first bestseller was entitled The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, aged 37¾.) All three were very funny, displaying a peculiarly Anglican self-disparagement: after speaking very seriously for a few minutes, Eric caught himself descending into cliché and burst out laughing, "When you're an Anglican minister, you learn all the crap!" Adrian asked how many of us in the tent were Anglican, then said, "Oh, it's good to see you with your hands up for once." Russ got a lot of laughs out of an anecdote about a frustrated healing ministry he tried running out of his Anglican church, and how it worked on only one person: a Methodist, whose church subsequently had a very successful healing ministry of its own. This, he told Adrian, was part of the basis for his book on failure, "which I dedicated to you."

Then it was off to the Jive tent to see Sam Hill, a singer who spent much of his set dumping on the Tories, and Phil Keaggy. I've seen Phil play in Vancouver the last three times he's come out this way, and he is a superb guitarist, but every time he played here, he was unaccompanied by anyone save his acoustic guitar. But at Greenbelt, he had a wonderfully loud & distorted band! The perfect finish to the day.

I found my way back to my tent and discovered that it was very, very small. I don't know how they can justify calling it a two-man tent. I could barely fit myself in there. But I managed.

Saturday, August 27

First two seminars of the day: Graham Cray on "Was Jesus Saved?" and Bart Gavigan on myths and genres in film-writing; he defined "myth" as "the spiritual & moral map that a culture lives by". He said he would have given the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark a 2 or 3 out of 10 because the climax of the film was not precipitated by a choice of the hero: Indiana Jones' entire role in the climactic scene was to tell Marion, "Keep your eyes shut." I argued that there were two parallel storylines, one about Indiana and one about the Ark itself: in the first, Indiana had made his choice just before the climactic scene by choosing not to blow the Ark up, while in the other, the Ark got a chance to show us why such a fuss was being made over it. Bart said that was "getting academic", and it didn't change the fact that in the climactic scene itself, Indiana was completely passive.

Walking through the village, I passed a band of steel drums playing "In the Mood". In a T-shirt shop called the Bunker, a band from Belfast called Hannah's Party was trying to get all the people squatting on the grass to dance. I bought two different Steve Taylor T-shirts for myself, plus one for Trent. They also sold Red Dwarf shirts bearing the motto

Nazis Are Smegheads

and had a bucket for donations to the Anti Nazi League. I had seen signs protesting the Nazis elsewhere in England: I hadn't realized it was such a pervasive concern there.

In the Rumba tent, three Christian Members of Parliament, one from each political party, sat on a panel that was supposed to deal with faith, how it motivates their political work, and what unifying properties it might have for them across the political divide. Unfortunately, the panel got off to a fairly bad start, and 50 minutes of typical party-political bickering ensued before someone finally asked a question about faith, 10 minutes before the end.

Then it was off to the Tango tent for the European premiere of Steve Taylor's new video album, Squint: Movies from the Soundtrack, hosted by Steve himself.

I then made my way to the main stage for the first time, and caught the last bit of Mike Peters & the Poets of Justice's set. Simon Mayo, a popular deejay for Radio One, shared the m.c.ing duties with Steve Taylor, who was asking the audience for toothbrushes and the like because his luggage had been lost in Frankfurt. Simon mentioned football (i.e. soccer) and Steve asked if England had even entered the World Cup this year, prompting the booing crowd to shout, "Off! Off!" Simon retorted by asking who ever played the so-called World Series, "America and ... " I thought of shouting, "Canada!" but I was too far back.

A spokesman for Amnesty International came on-stage to plead the case of children's rights, and then Simon & Steve gave the stage over to the Proclaimers. I actually enjoyed their set quite a lot, despite the fact that I only knew one or two of their songs beforehand. Being in an outdoor crowd of thousands singing along to "500 Miles", lighters in the air, was quite the experience.

Sunday, August 28

My last Sunday in England began back at the main stage, where the Sunday morning communion service was held. When one speaker made reference to the universe being "20 billion years old", my first thought was, "Hey, I thought it was 15 billion years old!" Somewhere after that I realized that that one detail would have caused a ruckus at most church gatherings I'm familiar with back at home. John Bell delivered a sermon in praise of diversity -- "God's favorite colour is tartan!" -- and said that people who couldn't handle this or that aspect of what Greenbelt was doing should "get out of the church"; that's funny, I always thought the church could be even more diverse if such people stayed. After we ate together, a South American folk group sang the Lord's Prayer in Spanish ... to the tune of "Sounds of Silence"! When the service ended at 12:15, the band playing and dancers dancing, the worship leader told us, "The service has ended. Go in peace, or stay in noise!"

Two hours later I was back at the main stage for Graham Cray's analysis of Kurt Cobain's life and music, with a dash of Douglas Coupland thrown in to compare and contrast Kurt to. On my way to the next seminar, I passed a tent advertising a Phil Keaggy autograph session to start in just a few minutes; luckily, they were offering Way Back Home, the one Keaggy disc I hadn't found time to buy yet, so I snapped it up and got his signature on it.

In the Rumba tent, an Australian Hell's Angel named John Smith spoke on "Wisdom Keepers of Forgotten Mysteries" among the Aussie aboriginals and the Hopi of Arizona; he railed against the "post-Enlightenment gobbledygook" that's affected the church, and at times reminded me of C.S. Lewis, Tony Campolo, and O-jo Taylor; his seminar dovetailed nicely with the Douglas Coupland references of Graham Cray's seminar. Then I attended a screening of The Wrong Trousers, the claymated labour-of-love that won an Oscar last March, and was surprised to see director Nick Park -- a regular Greenbelter himself, apparently -- introduce his cartoon in person (a fact not mentioned in the programme)! He's finished the script for the next Wallace & Gromit cartoon, but revealed no more than the fact that Wallace will get a girlfriend.

Back to the main stage, where I caught the last bit of World Wide Message Tribe's set, followed by Bryn Haworth. Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes came onstage with two South Africans who announced the debut of a "Greenbelt South Africa" in a year's time. Then Steve Taylor played a superb set, garnering two encores: for the second, he sang the camp-fire song "Pass It On" (opening lyric: "It only takes a spark to get a fire going") to the tune of "Born to Be Wild". On my way back to my tent, I caught the last four songs in ex-Waterboy Mike Scott's set at the Jive.

Monday, August 29

I finally woke up early enough to attend Matins with the Franciscans. In a quiet moment, it occurred to me that I had left Canada exactly one month previous to this day.

I attended one more seminar each by John Smith and Adrian Plass, and got Adrian to sign a book for my dad. I bumped into Steve Taylor in the village, where he was shooting a promotional video for Greenbelt: he remembered me from somewhere, but couldn't remember where, so I dredged up the interview between him, me, and Trent 5½ weeks previous at SonFest in Canada.

I didn't attend any other seminars that day, except for a "Talkback" panel with the executive board of Greenbelt. Then it was over to the Jive tent, where I walked in on the last song by Agents Unknown, a man-and-woman rap act that dissed the Big Bang, evolution, and the like. After everything else I had seen, this surprised me: I wasn't sure which surprised me more, that Greenbelt allowed this sort of thing, or that such artists even wanted to play at Greenbelt ...

... particularly considering who followed them, and who most of us were there to see: Samantha Fox! Yes, the former page-three-model-turned-girl-rocker apparently began to hang out with some evangelicals in London, and she became a Christian sometime earlier this year. She wanted to play at Greenbelt, after her tour of Lithuania, to go public with her faith, and I was curious to see what sort of set her band would play. Well, songs that could conceivably have a hidden Christian meaning, buried somewhere between the lines, stayed in the set, like "Naughty Girls Need Love Too" and "Don't You Want to Please Me", but "Touch Me" was off the list. She also said her band had learned Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" especially for Greenbelt. The guys in the crowd kept hooting and whistling lasciviously, and I could only imagine what impression this may have given Samantha of her first performance at a Christian venue. I kept thinking of my ex-roommate Darin and breaking into a wide and silly grin: this music would be right up his alley.

And as soon as her set was done, I headed over to the main stage to catch Midnight Oil's set; something in this juxtaposition of music genres struck me as very odd, but I couldn't put my finger on it exactly. Anyway, before Midnight Oil played, there were some festivities in honour of Greenbelt's 21st birthday, from fireworks to free CDs tossed from the stage to video clips of "Loo TV" interviews conducted out of an old outhouse: in one interview, the Proclaimers said that Greenbelt, where they had played before back in 1989, was the best festival they had ever played, because the crowd was "healthy and enthusiastic", not like the "stoned and drunk" crowds they typically played for at other festivals.

Midnight Oil was great, live. I only have two CDs of theirs, but I was amazed at how much of their set I recognized. Peter Garrett dedicated "Put Down Your Weapon" to the current political goings-on in Ireland, and "Read About It" to "a professing Christian who needs to read his Gospels again: Rupert Murdoch." He also made the odd promise, given the location, that Australia would one day get the Union Jack off of its flag. "The Dead Heart" was perhaps my favorite song of the night, being part of a crowd of thousands all chanting, "Doodoodooo, doodoodooo, doooodedooo." Of course, all their songs were great, and I was surprised to see how often Peter Garrett smiled at his bandmates. Their songs usually sound so serious on disc, that I somehow never pictured Peter Garrett as the smiley type.

Their set over, I steeled myself for a long night. I had to get back to Coventry in time to catch the 9:15am bus to the Lunt, but the first coach leaving Greenbelt was at 5:30am, and there were the trains and buses to cope with after that. On top of this, I had no alarm clock. The obvious solution: Stay awake until the bus arrives.

So I did.

And I'm glad I did, because the night-life I observed until about 4:00am was almost as good as any of the seminars, concerts, and celebrities I encountered that weekend. But I finally gave in to necessity and packed up my tent, and at 5:00am I got on the bus and fell asleep.

Tuesday, August 30

A fellow passenger woke me up at 6:20am when we arrived in Kettering. I caught the 7:04am train to Leicester, then the 7:50am train to Nuneaton, and finally arrived in Coventry at 8:45am. I ran to the bus-stop, on a bridge over the rail about a block away, and caught the bus to Warwick University at 8:48am, and it dropped me off at 9:05am. I ran to the flat, dropped off the tent, picked up my mail, and caught the 9:15am bus to the dig. Whew!

I discovered that everyone had gone on a major drinking binge the night before, and two people had gotten very sick. One of Kosta's roommates started describing the "projectile vomit" Kosta had emitted after downing 15-or-so shooters in an hour or two. I was one of the few people on the site that day without a hangover ... but I had had only 1½ hours of sleep, so I felt quite out of it anyway. Which made the arrival of two guest lecturers rather untimely. The only thing we seemed to remember from these lectures was one professor's declaration: "The trowel is an extension of your brain!" On this day, our trowels were very warped.

After lunch, Andrew took us on a tour of the ruins of Baginton Castle, currently overgrown with weeds. We all had dinner on the grass outside the flats. More drinking ensued. Tony set up his video camera and left it alone: Simon seized the opportunity to record a song about how Tony loved to lecture us on things "he knows fuck-all about". Frank brought out a time capsule, left behind by the 1990 dig, that he had dug up on the first day and kept secret from the supervisors. As the evening dragged on, some normally sober people got rather ... interesting. Derek donned a blanket as a cape, ran around pretending to fly, pointing at his shadow every now and decrying the Dark Side. Simon began sobbing on the shoulders of every nearby girl, telling them how much he would miss them. And so on ...

Wednesday, August 31

Our last day on the dig.

We filled in the trench, so it wouldn't erode and so no one would fall into it inadvertently before next year's team. We wanted to leave a packet of Tesco biscuits behind, but Tony vetoed that move; Cynthia then bought a beer and hid that in the dirt instead. Sure, the can will probably rust by next year, but it's the thought that counts. An address list was passed around, and rumours buzzed about of a reunion party at Rick's place in Vancouver, perhaps on September 16.

Our last ride back to Warwick University felt rather sad. Several people had left early and were already on their ways home, or to other ports of call in Europe.

I caught a bus or two to Bernie's parents' place to drop off the tent, and they insisted that I stay for a bite to eat. They were very friendly, hospitable people, and I spent about three hours talking to them. It's funny, coming from a country that hasn't fought a war on its own turf in almost 200 years, and from a part of the country that has never been a battlefield, to hear British people talk about "the War" and how their hometowns had been bombed -- this is Coventry, remember -- or how they had fought the Italians and been instructed not to get too friendly with the French-Canadians on their boat, or what sort of service the railways used to give them "before the War", and so on. When I said I had to catch a train to Reading on the morrow, Bernie's mother asked if she ought to make any sandwiches for me: my approval garnered two ham sandwiches, three Penguin biscuits with trivia quizzes, two Blue Riband bars, a bag of Flintstones "hula hoops", a packet of Caledonian shortbread fingers, and four small tomatoes! And these were people I'd never met before!

I got back to the University ten minutes before the bar closed. Everyone who hadn't left already was gathered around the pool table, and I noticed that at least two "relationships" had emerged from what had been, just three weeks ago, a sea of individuals. Simon started sobbing again, so we all gathered in a big group hug around him, Alan letting go of his girlfriend long enough to kiss Simon on the lips, and we sang "O Canada" as loudly and obnoxiously as we could. Walking back to the dorms, Simon said he was going to miss us "fucking colonials"; Alan retorted that Simon was a "fucking conquer-the-world,-sit-on-your-laurels-and-think-you're-better-than-everyone-else", and Simon laughed.

Thursday, September 1

The Independent's headline blared:

The IRA declares peace

Hedda and I got to the rail station early enough, but the weekly rail-strike wouldn't be over until about 2:00pm. She went north to her school in Glasgow, I went south to Reading, where my father's cousin Andy picked me up at the station.

(I don't recall meeting Andy before, but he said that, back in 1976, I had broken a model of his. And as I discovered, models were very important to him; we went to Bournemouth the next day, on the southern coast, to pick up a model 1914 Dennis Fire Engine that had been "out of print", so to speak, for 20 years; he had been looking for it for half that time.)

We stayed up for a while, and he filled me in on many details about my father's side of the family that I had never heard before. All my relatives in B.C. come from my mother's side, and since my own father was an only child, my relatives on that side are somewhat distant. Andy's 11-year-old daughter Clare is a superb cartoonist, and she had a copy of A Grand Day Out, the original Wallace & Gromit cartoon, so we watched that.

Friday, September 2

Andy drove us down to Bournemouth to pick up his model. We then visited his wife's family -- her aunt was 10 when "the War" started and 16 when it ended, and had a lot to say about it even now -- before driving through New Forest, a town where the horses, donkeys, and cows are allowed to roam wild in the streets. Someone said there were deer there too, but that the deer were shy.

We then visited Andy's two brothers, and I got to meet a few more second-cousins who I'd never seen before. On the television at one brother's house, whatshisname from Ireland was being interviewed, but because the media is banned from broadcasting anything he says, an actor's voice was dubbed in, with the prominent subtitle "Actor's voice", and the actor was allowed to say everything that the Irish guy had said. Makes one wonder what the point of the ban is.

I also realized how anxious I was getting about going home. I had been away for so long ... did I have to go back?

Saturday, September 3

Andy dropped me off at the Reading railway station. I dropped my luggage off at Gatwick Airport, then travelled south to Worthing, a city on the coast of Sussex, to visit my great-aunt Daphne, a somewhat outspoken Cockney lady whose husband, my grandfather's brother, died 12 years ago. My father attended their wedding when he was 2 years old, and she had some interesting stories to tell about him.

I stayed for two hours, then I had to leave. On my walk back to the train station, a wish was fulfilled at the last minute: and I beheld not one, but two, three-wheeled cars!

The plane left Gatwick at 5:30pm and arrived in Vancouver ten hours later at 7:30pm; en route, we saw a heavily sanitized version of The Ref (which the pilot kept calling "The Reef"!): too many "freaking"s and "bullspit"s occurred, but I didn't find the movie that funny anyway. It didn't have the guts to be a real black comedy, like War of the Roses did; instead it actually tried to be redeeming.

The Vancouver International Airport had a much more welcoming feel about it than Gatwick: lots of wood panelling and scenic photos of the Vancouver area. Monica and Michelle surrounded me as soon as I emerged from the Arrivals area, singing "He Remains an Englishman" as loudly as they could. The rest of my family was there too, as were Byrun and Greg & Joy Fast, and I gave them all pieces of Terry's chocolate orange. Trent & Colette phoned me shortly after I got home, and I gave teeny budget-sized presents to the family.

Jet-lag caught up with me, and I fell asleep on the couch reading the 103rd issue of Phoenix. Ah, home at last.

Sorry I didn't include any pictures, but I'm pushing the deadline as it is. Next time, perhaps.

© 1994-2001 Peter T. Chattaway
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