Groningen 365 35 and 36

Groningen 365 35

Originally uploaded by girlwithtrowel.

Last night my broadband should have activated. This baleful red light shows you it in fact did not. We rang, they demurred. I ended up giving up and using my 3G dongle to blog.

I rang them again this morning. They sent a man from KPN who said it was simple; they had sent me the wrong connector, and told me to plug things into the wrong socket.

He fixed it. Lights went green. I tried to get online. No luck. I could connect through secure sockets; msn and outlook web and skype worked, but nothing else. Same for my phone.

1 hour with a guy from tech support later, and he concluded it was ‘very strange’. 1 offhand comment from my brother and it was all fixed. My laptop and UK phone were both still thinking in GMT. The server at my ISP understandably isn’t. This lead to it refusing to talk to my non compliant requests as it thought I was something nasty. 1 tiny little setting change, and pow, all online, all seamless.

The lesson? Sometimes it is the simple solution, not one hour of manually flushing various caches and arguing with DNS settings.

I made a video of the container. It is on facebook, and half of it on flickr (due to flickr restrictions). I talked to Jack for about 2 hours, which was really good. I surfed. I feel better!

Childhood books, prehistory and place

I have been trying to say something very tangled up and personal about archaeology for a long time. On Saturday I woke to discover tweets from David McKeen and Neil Gaiman letting the world know Diana Wynne Jones had passed away, and I decided it was about time to stop trying to write it in my head, and write it here instead.

What follows is personal musing only. I am not attempting some grand academic conceit. Nor am I saying I am the only person to have thought about this, or even to have written about it. Last summer when I was writing my PhD corrections, I wrote a clumsy post about how I would be a better archaeologist if I was a better poet. I was trying to say, I think, that poets are (uniquely?) able to tie together words with rich allusions and place them in context with one-another. This is hard to explain, so bear with me. Poets seem, in a way that other artists do not, to be able to grasp the many layers and essences of a thing, and leave them there for us to delve into. It might be that I have been vicariously enjoying my Dad’s love of deeply complex and inherently difficult poetry too much and it has perhaps coloured my perceptions.

But I think that to do this, and do it well, poets have to be well read, they have to understand the many layers of meaning, the possible readings of a word, the way it was used in the past as opposed to now. They draw on great reserves of cultural knowledge, embedded in the people that have read enough to feel what it is they write about. I remember reading the opening stanzas of a Matthias poem in ‘A Gathering of Ways’ about routes and roads in the Pays d‘Oc and pilgrim routes into Spain, and it catching something deep inside me that resonated with it, because I knew the deep history he was writing about. I wonder if it would speak to someone who didn’t know of Roland, of the pilgrim routes and the reconquista and all that went before and after in the same way. And it got me thinking- that if I were more widely read, that if I were a better poet, that if I saw and understood these deep cultural connections, that I’d be a better archaeologist. And perhaps, if I was better at both I could explain this less hesitantly.

And then I got to thinking, as you do, when writing job applications last year, and answering the inevitable ‘tell us why you want this job’. I got to thinking about why archaeology had become my passion, where and when I had fallen in love with prehistory. Bear with me, we’ll get to Diana Wynne Jones, I promise. I’ve written before about how and why I choose to be involved in a particular act of archaeology, what it meant to me personally and politically and professionally. I’ve tried to explain why here on the blog too. But that’s not the heart of it. The heart of it goes even deeper.

I grew up reading fantasy books. Books that foregrounded British myths and legends, and the landscape. I can’t remember my Dad reading me the Narnia stories for the first time, but I can remember my outrage at being told they were Christian allegories (I was a fierce atheist at six; I’ve mellowed a bit since). T H White’s ‘The Once and Future King’ was another bedtime favourite. When I was a bit older I read the Hobbit by myself, and then The Lord of The Rings. I devoured Alan Garner books and they still have a unique hold over my imagination- I remember being terribly annoyed that Gollum appeared to be a rip-off of a svart, not realising, at ten or so that they had been published the other way round. Red Shift remains one of my favourite books of all time, and it is one reason I find polished stone axes so beautiful. Rosemary Sutcliffe was another author I adored, Sun Horse Moon Horse being a particular favourite. Susan CoopersThe Dark Is Rising sequence was another obsession, chock full with Arthurian myths. I longed to go to Wales and Cornwall, hunting for Grails. Castle Tioram was my Cair Paravel. Entire sections of the downs above my home on the Isle of Wight became places from Middle Earth; we had our own Helms’ Deep, our own Galadriels Tree, and plenty of barrows, and even a dew-pond to be the pool at the entrance to Moria. We scared ourselves silly, more than once, camping up there on warm summer nights and telling stories with ourselves as heroes. I’ve not read all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, but the Dalemark quartet was very special to me. My best friend Cat gave them all to me for Christmas, and I cried, quite a lot, because I hadn’t realised they were in print again (because of JK Rowling), and never thought I would get to read them again. They stand the test of time. They have their own myths and landscapes, but they resonate nonetheless, and have in their heart something about rebirth and souls that keep returning to finish their stories. Katherine Kerr’s books are special to me for the same reason, that and their pseudo celtic setting. When I was older it became the Saga of the Exiles and Julian May’s sci-fi re imagining mythical-age Europe; Aiken Drum as a non-born trouble maker gone back in time; elves and goblins as alien protagonists. Threaded through this were walks with my parents in the mountains, moors and hills. Looking for deserted villages, finding cairns and talking about coffin routes. I was always keenly aware of places, not just landscapes and empty space, but places that had histories and meanings.

I think all of this is why I fell in love with prehistory. I grew up soaked in stories that come from prehistory after all; or very near to it. I grew up knowing that kings are buried in barrows and that wet places are gateways to other worlds. That stone circles are powerful and that the landscapes of these islands are magical indeed, if you are able to see it. Dragons sleep under mountains, monsters in lakes with their mothers; mysterious strangers are never what they seem and somewhere Arthur and his knights are sleeping against our time of greatest need. Stone circles are places you can cross between the worlds, and springs and rivers have their own gods and goddesses. Kids stories, but stories that have been with us for two thousand years, or more. Lugh and his spear, the Morrigan. Norse Gods too, Loki and Odin and Freya. The hanged man, the wounded God, the sacrifice to make the winter end; the old Gods and their places and curses. All out there, lurking and waiting to be found and have stories told about them again. Though it’s not really a kids book, I think this is one of the reasons I love ‘American Gods’ so much too, and the way old Gods keep popping up in the Sandman/Endless Graphic Novels. Simon Schama has written about how landscape is enculturated; how and why British forests are oak dappled glades with the Green Knight on his endless and pure quest, whereas German forests are dark and full of witches, evil spirits and death. I can’t find a good scholarly review to link to, but I am talking about ‘Landscape and Memory‘, which my dad maintains is the only good thing he’s written apart from his stuff on the Dutch. This I suppose is what I am getting at; my encultured experience of landscape is what led me to prehistory.

I knew from very young that I wanted to be an archaeologist, but I didn’t really understand prehistory as something you could study until I went to University. At eighteen, I will admit, I still thought it had more to do with Roman Temples, Medieval Castles and Indiana Jones types of adventures, or perhaps the Paleolithic, and thinking about how we became what we are. Still, I had seen Time Team, and it got me thinking, and interested. So I took units on prehistory where I could, and somewhere by the end of my second year, it had stuck. I had fallen in love with prehistory, but in particular the Mesolithic to Bronze Age, a time in our past when my Dad delights in telling me ‘people were really strange’. And now I am wondering which came first. Did I fall in love with prehistory because it spoke to bits of my heart that had been raised on this rich diet of myth? Or am I just predisposed to both? My other half reads just as much fantasy as me, but the kids stories haven’t stayed with him into adulthood, and he much prefers the Romans. I’m certain that most of the people I know that love fantasy novels are interested in archaeology, but not all of them in prehistory, and I know a good deal of archaeologists who scoff at fantasy and think the Lord of the Rings was boring (even the movies!).

So I’m none the wiser, but I do think it has something to do with how I experience the landscape, and the way my imagination reacts. I look at Silbury Hill and I do wonder how it was built and why, with my archaeology head on, but I also wonder what stories they told themselves about it, once they had built it. I wonder if the Roman Road that dog-legs around it and helped to date it did so out of grudging respect. I wonder if they told stories on their marches at night around the camp fire, about the native Gods- kings that slept within it. I walk into West Kennet long barrow, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that the old axe polishing grooves on the entrance-stone are at eye height, and easy to reach out and touch. I walk up the hollow way to the Longstone on the Isle of Wight, and I think about how long this path must have been a boundary to have become deeper that I am tall. I think about the manor it borders, and about ‘beating the bounds’ in medieval times to keep away devils. I wonder if the stone was kept out, or kept in. And this draws me to Susan Cooper, talking about the Hunting of the Wren, which I think is a Spenserian allusion from the Faerie Queen, but I am probably wrong. I think about how the stone became a hundred-moot, and what it was before all that, when it was in all likelihood a community grave; a tomb, of sorts, but not how we would understand one. I wonder if, even then, their feet brought their loved ones and ancestors up the same path to the monument, and if people have been following this route for five thousand years.

I find these places inherently beautiful, and slightly unnerving; I feel like pre-history is breathing down my neck. I do this sort of archaeology because I want to understand, I want to breach the gap between me and them, and see the world the way they did. I think I see the world quite differently to a lot of my generation; it’s not just a lumpy field, it’s a barrow. It was built in the Bronze Age because someone died, and then people came back later, and built more, and added things to the ones that were already here. This place meant something. It’s not just another lumpy field as we rush past in the car, or on the train. For me, the landscape is alive with ghosts and stories, and I wish I could tell them better.

Day 34: Summer is coming!

Groningen 365 34

Originally uploaded by girlwithtrowel.

This was the view from my flat when I got in from work. Admittedly, it’s just the other part of the complex of containers but I like being able to see so much sky from my enormous window. Summer time has started and it was so nice to be leaving work at 6 and find it wasn’t ‘evening’ yet.

I am working on a longer post about fiction, archaeology, and why I fell in love with landscapes and prehistory, but I want to try to refine it a bit before I inflict it on you all. My various sneaky means of connecting to the internet are all playing up this evening, which has made things a bit frustrating- it’s taken about half an hour to get this picture onto flickr, and then onto here. However, if all goes to plan my broadband activates tomorrow and then I have fast, unlimited web access at home, which will be bliss. I am trying not to get too excited though, in case it goes wrong!

I’m leaving for Italia on Sunday lunchtime, and will be back on the 19th, the same day Matt arrives(yay!). I might have some limited ‘net access while I am away but we aren’t certain yet. I will be able to tweet no matter what though- you don’t escape my updates altogether 😉

Groningen 365 31- in which 3 important discoveries are made

Groningen 365 31

Originally uploaded by girlwithtrowel.

Groningen 365 Day 31

3 discoveries. 1) my local asian supermarket sells awesome fresh roti 2) hema sell kids dinosaur socks 3) kids socks fit me

Had a good day at work (sort of my day off but it was the best day to see the man from Leica). Been paid, think part of the blues last night was money stress but all fine now! Hoping to talk to my parents for the first time in ages tonight. Cleaning, reading & sit ups are also on the list.

Me and the little pink bike have ridden over 22km since Monday!

28 days later – thinking about memories and materiality

Groningen 365 28

Originally uploaded by girlwithtrowel.

I’m having a bit of a funny day- a few days of feeling on top of the world, and then a bit of a fizzle. I have to remind myself that this is OK! It is allowed to miss people and also, that back home, I wasn’t 100% shiny all the time either, so the odd blue day here and there is nothing to panic about. I’ve just realised, uploading the picture for today that I’ve been here a month (calendrical and lunar, seeing as I left in February!). It’s been at the back of my mind all day so I guess it might explain my mood a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about how important memory is to me. In my family, we tell stories. Communal reminiscence is a big part of family get-togethers. I suspect it is for a lot of other people too… ‘Do you remember when you’ … followed by some amusing/embarrassing anecdote. My mum is very fond of recalling an adamant argument we had when I was about 3 that a tutu was not, in my opinion, a tutu, but a ballet-dress. It’s always jarring to me when memories I hold very close are not remembered in the same way, or at all by other people. I have a very distinct memory of going hill walking with my dad, and my older cousin Ben, both of whom I had massive hero complexes about. I was seven, and we were going through a boggy patch where it felt like some of the tussocks were nearly as big as me. I was struggling a bit, bringing up the rear, and I heard Ben ask my dad if he thought I was OK, and could keep up. Dad didn’t think I could hear, but I heard him say ‘she’s fine, she just needs a bit of encouraging now and then’. He turned, and in a voice designed to carry said ‘Come on love, you’re doing great’. It has stayed with me for years, and helped me through some pretty serious crises- knowing that I might need a bit of cheering-along, but essentially, that he knows I’ll be fine. He doesn’t remember this at all. It was a shock, at first, upsetting, to know that this moment I had held very close for a long time wasn’t a big deal to him, but nowadays I take comfort from that. It wasn’t a big deal. He had faith, he knew I’d cope, so much so that it wasn’t a big thing for him to say it, it was something he took for granted.

People who reads these notes probably gather that I love my dad a lot. I do. I think we are very close; we always have been. But I love my Mum just as much. I don’t talk about her in the same ways, and I think that does her a disservice. I once tried to explain the enormity of the influence she has had on my life and the person I am, and I’ve even done it in an academic journal. My memories of her, the treasured ones, are much more visceral. I love her smell. I love how it feels to be hugged by her. I love knowing deep down in my soul that she honestly believes me and my wonderful brother are two of the very best things her and my dad have ever done. I can’t pin those down to specific moments; her love for me is written in who I am. When I left for the Netherlands, she made me a present, but made me promise not to open it until I was on the plane. It was a picture of Castle Tioram, in  Knoydart, a place which has very special memories for both of us, from my childhood holidays and hers. We both want our ashes scattered there. She said I needed some mountains to take to the Netherlands with me! There are so many little things, that would take a lifetime of being loved by her to truly understand.

I don’t know quite where all this is coming from! Sorry if it’s a bit too personal for some- I guess if you don’t like it, move on!

So, today’s picture. I wanted to talk about my Mum and Dad because I suddenly realised that I don’t wear anything, not habitually, that makes them present with me. I carry them around inside, instead. I don’t need something external; they are, in a lot of ways, the foundations of who I am. Today’s picture is of the jewellery I always wear, unless something like pesky mag survey gets in the way, and even then it is never far away. I don’t care that silver & gold don’t match. I don’t care that the three pendants look out of place together.

The diamond and gold ring is my great-grandmothers engagement ring. It must be about 100 years old. I’m not sure of the exact provenance but it might be American. The setting is really unusual and always draws remarks. My Grandmother (on my Dad’s side) passed it down to me. When M and I first lived together, we got engaged. We’ll never get married, but making a statement of permanence felt important- we were only 18, fresh out of school and lots of people were worried we would miss out on things, but we are still here 13 years later. Getting engaged, before the Victorians, was good enough to live together, good enough for kids to be legitimate and for the relationship to have standing, so we decided it was good enough for us. I feel very odd if I am not wearing it. It feels like a part of me is missing. It’s about me and Matt, but also my Grandmother, and her Mum. A connection to the past.

The next two are new, and don’t quite feel part of me in the same way, but I hope that they will one day. I’m too scared of loosing them still, to wear them all the time, but I am trying to be brave x

The ring with 3 stones was a leaving gift from Cat. I love the colours and the shapes. It makes me think of her- the purples and greens are colours I associate her with. It’s not been here that long, but I suspect it will start to feel part of me too. She never needs to worry about me forgetting her though- we have Ohana, and nothing breaks that.

The ring with one stone, bright turquoise, is a gift from my friend Kae and it’s very special as it was originally acquired with the intent of being a ‘mentors gift’ to people who chose to study medieval arts with her. It’s to remind me to have faith in myself, and it seems to be working!

The necklace is actually three. The chain, and the green stone set in a teardrop were handmade on the Isle of Wight, the place I grew up, itched to be free of and now yearn to return to. It was chosen by my two very best friends growing up, Jess and Helen, for my 18th birthday present. I think about them often, and wearing it reminds me of the person I was then, and the person I hoped I would become. I love them both. We might go months or even years without seeing each other but we start again where we left off.

The cat is my Bast. She looks out for me, and was my 18th birthday present from M, who has always seen me as somewhat feline. He has a slightly different one from me, that he wears all the time too. It’s funny, I think of myself as a graceless lump, but he sees a cat? I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and she does look after me and brings me luck. A talisman of sorts.

The teeny stone in silver was a parting gift from Sarah B. We’ve been through a lot together in the course of our more-than-a-decade friendship. It hurt to leave, but this way she knows I’m coming back, and we’re still connected.

Lola, you should all be familiar with. Stu and Theresa, the other two very important people in my life (I was honoured to be maid of honour at their wedding!) gave her to me when I started my PhD and was away from home a lot for the first time. She’s my travelling buddy, and I don’t go anywhere overnight without her! She has her own Flickr gallery, where you’ll see she’s been to some pretty awesome archaeology. She reminds me that there are two people who love me for exactly who I am, and know that I often need hugs.

So, enough with the fluffy! I am off to do some archaeology related reading.