Petrol and amphitheatres

Last year I wrote a post about how I was offered this amazing opportunity to work on an unexcavated Roman amphitheatre, why I turned it down, and how I was given a second chance after I realised I’d made one of the stupidest and dumbest mistakes of my life – and no, I’m not exaggerating. But as the site was due to start the day the UK went into lockdown the whole project got cancelled, and then postponed until March this year, and then postponed again, because the current #!@£&*s human-shaped entities running the Government ballsed up this country’s response to Covid on so many levels, to finally start digging this autumn.

Now I know I said in my last post that one of the reasons I was looking forward to this site was because I was hoping to be in the same chalet that I was assigned to last year, with limited internet and therefore limited distractions. Alas for my productivity goals, I’m in a different one with unlimited wifi. Which is awesome in many respects, less so in terms of blogging. And while one of the first things I did when I got here was map out my evenings from 5pm when I get back (I love having such a a short commute!) to 11pm when I’m meant to be in bed and trying for sleep, and while I’ve mostly managed to stick to it, one of the bits that has fallen by the wayside is, unsurprisingly, ‘9-10pm, write blog post/s’. Especially as the site started on the 20th, two weeks ago. But I’ve had a week to get used to the rhythm of a new site, and settle into the accommodation, and be getting-to-know-you social with my colleagues, and then a week of having my arse handed to me by a glorious mix of my reproductive system and our current fuel crisis, so now I really have no excuse to not do the typing thing.

And oh what I could type about my amphitheatre! Honestly, this site is fucking AMAZING and I really wish I could squee at you about the features we have and show you the photos I’ve taken, but as this is a very high profile site I’m not allowed to until English Heritage have announced things first, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that this site is one of the best I’ve ever worked on, and while the layers we’re taking out are some of the most sterile I’ve ever dug, Richborough is up there with Bucklersbury and I honestly can’t decide right now which one gets top spot – practically untouched Roman amphitheatre, or 8 metres straight down of solid stratigraphy and loads of timbers around the London Mithraeum. Plus Historic England are amazing as employers, what with being public sector service rather than private sector enterprise like every other commercial archaeology company. So the PPE we’ve been issued is really good quality, the accommodation is the best I’ve ever been in (barring the two weeks we ended up in CenterParcs after the caravans we were in burnt off half my eyelashes), and because there were only six places available Historic England were able to cherry-pick the archaeologists they wanted – so everyone is good at their job, knows what they’re doing, and actually cares about digging and recording the archaeology properly. I have never been on a site like this before in my life, and I don’t want to leave! And while nearly every day has been stunningly good (see below, and add in the fact we got rained off on Friday), I’m very conscious of each day gone is one less left to work here, and I really just want to keep digging my amphitheatre for ever and ever and ever and a day. It really is that good.

And as I can’t show you my amphitheatre, here’s the random, fairly modern-looking, standing stone about five minutes up the beach from us

Less good, however, is the aforementioned fuel crisis, which is why I’m sitting in the dining room of my chalet typing this instead of sitting at my desk in London typing this. I was meant to be going home this weekend, and spending my time tidying my desk with the ulterior motive of finding all the paperwork I need to do my tax return for the last financial year, and then doing my tax return for the last financial year. As well as doing things like shopping for toothpaste, which I can only do on Saturdays as there’s only one shop I know of near my flat which sells my brand of toothpaste, and it’s shut by the time I walk past on my way home from work and on Sundays. And also doing laundry and other domesticated things. But because all four petrol stations near my flat were out of fuel, by the time I got back here on Thursday night/early Friday morning last week (a whole other saga) I had under 3/4 of a tank left, which is not enough for me to get home and then back to Kent with certainty, even with economical driving. And I need to be able to get back here for work, because AMPHITHEATRE! 😁 So I had to stay here for the weekend. Now it’s lovely here, and I am going to be spending future weekends down here seeing things and being social and sitting on the pebbly beach with Aphrodite and Domnu and Amphitrite, but I’d much rather it be my choice than being forced to by other people’s greed and selfishness and stupidity. And I was lucky – if there hadn’t been a petrol station on my way down on Thursday night willing to sell me £30-worth of fuel I would probably have been driving to find fuel this week with my petrol tank warning light on. And I’ve only needed one tank so far – one of my friends who’s a policeman has had real trouble trying to fill up his van. Granted, yes it’s true that I don’t need to go home at weekends at all on this site, aside from needing to do my tax return, and having long-standing meetups arranged with friends that I haven’t seen in many many months/over a year, and not having enough clean clothes for the weekend, let alone next week, which led to emergency laundry on Friday night and an oil-filled electric radiator almost permanently on next to the airer in the hopes of having dry clothes to wear.

But! My clothes are nearly dry, I have acquired a full tank of petrol so I can go home this coming weekend and deal with my tax return paperwork while my friend visits (for which I have already apologised in advance), and as such I can now relax and not spend the whole week desperately worried about getting petrol. Honestly, I have never been so relieved to pull up at a petrol pump in my life… Especially after my Thursday. Oh, my Thursday…

See, back in May this year the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum (which you should visit if you ever get the chance, it’s lovely (just visit Richborough first – there’s public tours of the site every day now, so come by and wave)) had a course advertised for a workshop on dating timber-framed buildings, and as I’ve been working towards specialising in archaeological timber since 2010 this was a perfect CPD opportunity for me. So when it was announced that Richborough was going to take place from mid-September I knew that I’d be needing a day off to go squee over mediaeval and Early Modern jointing techniques. My plan was to drive back home Wednesday night, drive down to Weald & Downland in West Sussex Thursday morning, then drive back to Kent from there. But, what with every single services I passed on the motorway saying ‘no fuel’, and all the petrol stations near me being empty, I only had about a third of a tank left when I got home, which would be possibly just enough to get me back to Kent from London. So instead of an hour-and-a-half drive I had to leave at 5:15am to get a bus, a Tube, two trains, and another bus to arrive for just before 9:30am when the course started. What would normally be a three-hour round trip from my flat in the car turned into an eight-hour round trip by public transport. Which cost more than three hours’ worth of petrol. On top of an eight-hour workshop. On top of having constant period cramp since midnight Wednesday night. And then, once I’d finally made it home, I had to drive for what would normally be two hours to get back to my chalet. But because I only had maaybe just enough petrol I had to go at 60 down the motorway rather than 70, because fuel economy works that way, which takes longer. So I got back at half-midnight after miraculously finding some petrol, but then the M2 was shut, and then there was taking a wrong turn on the diversion… There was crying while driving, and I was a shattered emotional wreck by the time I arrived. But I was back, and on the Thursday night rather than worrying about getting up at sparrowfart to be here for 8am on the Friday, and as I was walking through the holiday park back to my chalet I saw a badger for the first time in the wild, which was lovely.

C18th prefab marks on roof timbers for a brick drying shed

So to conclude, I made it to Richborough, the amphitheatre is everything and more that I could have possibly hoped for, I’m now back on track for regular writing which with any luck will turn into more frequent posting, and the pebbly beach is five minutes walk away – which after eighteen years of attending Sidmouth Folk Festival means a pebble beach on the south coast is one of the most spiritually renewing places I can be. And I’ve recovered from my fuel-crisis-induced stress and exhaustion, helped by being able to feed the car this afternoon and sleeping for eleven hours last night. And, most miraculously of all, I have written and published a blog post in an afternoon! Life is good right now in my little world.

Sunrise on the beach

Oh, and I managed to break my toe falling down the stairs the first week I was here. In my defence, the stairs are gloss-painted wood and very steep, and this was in the dark at 1:30am when I woke up needing the loo. Which is downstairs. The bruising was most impressive!

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