Handcream, Hair Gel and Whirlwinds on Day 5 in the Neolithic Era #Neobuild

Summer is over and there is a biting wind howling round the site. That’s fine, I have my C17th spun/knitted hat, or at least I have had every other day. Today of course it is in the caravan 9 miles away. It is a community day so we have visitors and are encouraged to wear English Heritage Volunteer tee-shirts. Most opt to go for this on the grounds that it provides us with an additional layer, although it isn’t long before these disappear under any other garments we can find. Community day also means that there is a mobile canteen on site with warming soup and drinks in non-Neolithic polystyrene cups but there are only so many hot drinks one can have, especially with the consequent problem of negotiating many layers. We are reduced to more chalk pounding to keep warm, even though we have sufficient chalk for the floor that is being laid in 848.

I am pleased that my muscles don’t seem to be suffering from all the shovelling, riddling and pounding yesterday. My hands however are a different matter and have turned genuinely Neolithic. Despite liberal applications of not very Neolithic hand cream our hands are really effected from all the chalk even though we’ve been wearing gloves. Best I can manage is a C17th hand cream recipe: To make the hands white, take the flower of Beans, of Lupines, of Cornstarch and Rice, of each six ounces. Mix them and make a powder, with which wash your hands in water.

Chris is, with permission, raiding the on site skip. Not only does he acquire useful materials for the build in this way but he also appropriates a slightly dilapidated model cannon. Chilly members of the public are trying chopping with flint axes, weaving hazel and helping to flatten our chalk floor. There are many favourable comments about the project.

27 April 2013 851

As the community day draws to a close we are thawing out in our portacabin when someone remarks, ‘there’s a hurricane outside’. They are not wrong. I have never experienced a weather event like this as Neolithic land is engulfed in the eye of a storm. As we leave the safety of the portacabin we are covered in fine chalk dust that has been raised in the storm. Hair washing will be interesting, as adding water to chalk just makes it solidify. Will we be able to patent a new form of hair gel? We rush to cover our chalk pile and struggle to stay on our feet as rain begins to lash and we battle with tarpaulins in the wind, searching frantically for anything of sufficient weight to stop them blowing away. Then we notice that the fairly substantial English Heritage gazebo is about to take off. We have been watching parachutists over the site all week and it takes several people on the end of the gazebo poles to prevent us joining them. We are attempting to remove the cover from the metal uprights so that it no longer acts as a sail. The weighty two foot tent pegs have long since ceased to secure the uprights. I wonder if I am going to end up with only my ruby slippers (suitably health and safety approved) showing under the remnants of the gazebo, in imitation of the wicked witch of the west or if I am to be whisked back to Kansas. The ruined gazebo disposed of, we hope our rescue efforts have earned us Brownie points in the bid to be chosen to take part in phase 2. The tornado does provide useful evidence about the durability of our buildings. They are all still there, although there was a mad dash with a ladder to secure the thatched roll that protects the smoke hole of 851.

Sadly this is our last day on the project and we have to time travel back to our C17th lives. We say goodbye to our new found friends and head home. Surely all this physical effort will have had its benefits when I stand on the scales, ah no. I am attempting to subscribe to the ‘muscle weighs more than fat theory’, or it could just be because my hair has solidified?


Day 4 @NeolithicHouses Chalk, Chalk and more Chalk #Neobuild

Well I must say today did actually feel like hard work. We need to crush chalk for the floors in two of the houses. I am excited to discover that not only does our Neolithic materials chalk sieve work but that modern equivalents have been abandoned in its favour and it is attracting a lot of attention. There’s been rain over night and today is a little cooler with a brief shower. Wet chalk is not fun, instantly we are a couple of inches taller and considerably heavier as the chalk sticks to our boots. So jolly sticky is it that it is difficult to lift our feet from the ground. We are using shovels that are, at their best and driest, heavy. Add to this what seems like several tons of soggy wet chalk and then the chalk that we are trying to shovel and you have something that even my arm muscles, hardened from hefting armour, find difficult – goodbye bingo wings. I have a sneaking suspicion that both Rosemary and Kath, in a similar age bracket to myself, are considerably fitter than I, or maybe it is just that they’ve been in the Neolithic era for longer. But chalk pound we must so it is a hard day at the chalk face. We commission a second sieve and Liz gets to work. Even our less expert sieve holds up for a whole day of basically having rock thrown at it. Together with Rosemary and Kath, I chalk crush all day, others joining us for shifts at various stages. This is such a rubbish job that we wonder if it would be reserved for lesser mortals in Neolithic society and if there was some kind of hierarchy – we guess yes, because those of religious significance would be at the top. Or maybe this was meted out as some form of punishment. A society that could construct Stonehenge must have had rules and by extension, transgressors.

26 April 2013 Chris and the chalk sieve mark 2 1

Chris demonstrates the perfected chalk riddling technique

We are joined by a film crew making clips for the English Heritage website and in theory u-tube. We debate how well it would go down if we adopted cave-man speak al la Armstrong and Miller. Pretty much everything in a wide range is getting covered with chalk dust, including the camera equipment. Our feet are filmed as we tamper away. This means we have to sign clearance forms as our feet may be ‘published’. Our chalky hands are not a good combination with the producer’s posh pen. Neolithic persons’ hands must be jolly dry if they ever did this amount of crushing, sieving and tamping.

Down in the compound, floors are going in and chalk-wash is being put on the walls. I’d still like red walls and there is no archaeological evidence at all for white but there is a theory that white held some religious significance – not too sure upon what this is based. We discuss how Neolithic paint brushes might be made – some kind of porcine bristles seems likely but we are less sure if they would be fixed into something or kept on the skin and maybe wound round their hands like some kind of early paint pad. There is a debate as to whether there should be some kind of fixative added to the chalk paint. Personally I’d vote for urine which pretty much seems to do anything but solution 1 is washing-up liquid. It won’t have escaped your notice that washing-up liquid is scarcely Neolithic so an alternative has to be found and tried. If you ever want to chalk wash your walls (and my advice is don’t) just add an egg.

All this chalk crushing has made me slightly hysterical and I make the mistake of challenging Chris to a wheelbarrow race up the hill from the houses to the chalk pile. I think I may have won but I did have a slight head start. In case you are wondering, we were pushing the wheelbarrows not holding people’s legs while they walked on their hands as we did at school sport’s days.

An eat in meal at the Harvester today, mainly so I can at last get an Internet fix. I have had to leave my adoring public with us in Rutland 3 days ago. Never fear dear reader you will catch up in the end!

@Neolithichouses day three or riddling chalk and learning to fitch #neobuild

As I am still fairly puce coloured and as it may be sunny again and I don’t want to keep scrounging sun cream we dodge rush hour traffic on a mercy dash to T***o’s. I haven’t bought sun cream for thirty years, although I do confess to having had some that was free with something or other in the interim. Time is short and to avoid a Supermarket Sweep scenario I ask where the sun cream is located; that was the easy bit. There are advantages to the rubbish-up-to-now weather – sun cream is all half price, although there is a bewildering choice. Needless to say I opt for the cheapest. I really shouldn’t be let out alone – I don’t normally supermarket shop and I decide, with only one item, to try the self service thingy. Scanning is simple – I do this on my shifts in the community shop. The machine keeps asking me if I have my own bag – I don’t. Then it says ‘insert your money’. I try shoving a crumpled £5 note in to every available orifice to no avail. Why is there not a handy arrow pointing to where it should go? I finally locate the correct slot, a considerable distance to the right of the instruction screen and I even manage to retrieve my change. Sun cream purchased, so that’s the kiss of death for ‘summer’ then.

Our team on 547 (I think we are 547 – the three houses have numbers) have finished hay thatching so are at a bit of a loose end. We set to work clearing up the site – not the most interesting task but necessary none the less. I hope for something that is a bit more experimental. With that in mind, I try chalk crushing – we are aiming for coarser grained lumps for flooring and a dust like consistency for paint. Both are fairly time consuming and we wonder if Neolithic people would have gone to so much trouble. It took half an hour to produce a small bucket full of paint chalk dust. The stereotypical round (or in our case not really round at all) house is white but why? Is this putting medieval ideas into Neolithic people’s heads? Of course when you get to lime wash that was considered to be protection from infection but that seems unlikely in Neolithic times. Chalk washing inside the pig mud house seems sensible as this makes a significant difference to the light but outside? A mud house is cool and doesn’t need to reflect the sun in our climate – I should know I live in one. Would a white outside not just reveal your whereabouts to your enemies? Why not mix the chalk wash with pigs’ blood as is traditional for walls in Medieval Essex? Would red have been seen as protection from evil spirits so long ago?

This is all about trying things in order to assess their practicality so we tamper and sieve chalk with gusto. We are using modern shovels, metals tampers and what looks like a wire basket from a freezer to sieve our chalk. I am determined that we should at least work out how these tasks could be done using Neolithic materials. Added to this, there is only so much chalk crushing a person can stand before seeking respite. I enlist an accomplice and we justify our skiving by deciding that we must create a Neolithic sieve. Neither of us have much idea how we are going to do this but it is a welcome diversion from crushing. Fortunately, amongst our number is Liz the former basket maker, so we seek advice. We are weaving a hurdle-like panel from willow, leaving suitable sized gaps for the chalk to come through – the technical term is fitching – like I knew that before! The inexperienced among us would have tried this with our hazel panel frame lying flat but no, Liz says stick your uprights in the ground and it soon becomes clear that it would have been next to impossible with it flat. I am quite pleased that, unlike bow drilling, my girl guide acquired square lashing skills have not deserted me. We only use this for the hazel corners as Neolithic string making apparently takes ages so it would have been used sparingly. After two of us (and it did need two to stop the panel getting thinner at the top – rather as woollen weaving tends to) working for a couple of hours we have a panel. We debate whether it needs sides to stop the chalk rolling off but decide to take it for a test drive first and add sides if they prove necessary.

25 April 2013 Me with the chalk sieve 2

Making the Chalk Sieve

25 April 2013 Chalk sieve ready for action

Ready for Use

25 April 2013 Chalk sieving 1 25 April 2013 Chalk sieving 2

25 April 2013 Chalk sieving 3

25 April 2013 Tamping chalk

Tamping Chalk

No one was more surprised than us to find that it actually worked quite well. Given our time again we might have allowed extra pieces of hazel for the frame to act as handles. Providing you didn’t put much chalk on at a time, there wasn’t a lot of difference between our sieved chalk and that done with modern tools. We have been trying a three man method – two to shake the panel (up and down works better than side to side) and one to load with not too much chalk. I proudly show our achievements off to Chris and he points out that you could wedge our panel up at an angle and one person could throw chalk at it, resulting in a pile of fine chalk one side of the panel and a pile of larger pieces the other. This works, although, ideally the panel needs to be larger for this method, or the person wielding the spade needs a good aim. We also tried tamping with the end of a small log. This was more successful than the metals tampers. It seems this was tried by other volunteers earlier in the project (although the logs soon split) but we are all newbies so didn’t know this. So now all we need is a Neolithic spade – that’s on tomorrow’s to do list.

Good news on the safety boots front. They have only managed to acquire one pair of the size 4s that 3 of us asked for (well I asked for size 3 but that was too much to hope for). Would I mind going without as I am unlikely to do much damage to myself dropping a wisp of hay or a willow twig on my foot? I was hoping to get out of the safety boot wearing so I am greatly relieved and I promise not to sue anyone. I am wearing quite sturdy boots of my own and it would actually be more dangerous going up a ladder in boots that were too big anyway.

I admire some more rush weaving a lend a bit of a hand. Weaving in 5 rush bands seems to create a suitably dense weave. We discuss using a needle of some kind and decide we perhaps need a shuttle. Guy, who just happens to have a handy deer bone about his person – well about his land rover anyway – kindly offers to produce one. Incidentally his land rover also contains 4 red deer skins and a wild boar skin complete with nose and feet – definitely best not to ask.

The interesting thing about trying to work out how things might have been in the Neolithic era is that the thought processes are the same as those for trying to understand the C17th or indeed any other era. Tomorrow it is all hands on floor creation. I can’t believe that more than half our house building time is gone – just as we are getting to know people.

There is a Harvester yards from our site. We have been saving a 2 Harvester take aways for £10 for an occasion such as this. We do feel a bit conspicuous as we look as if we have spent the day crushing chalk and reed thatching – that would be because we have spent the day crushing chalk and reed thatching but we aren’t thrown out. We’ve never had Harvester take away before and it comes with its own free salad. I try to work out the optimum order in which to load my salad punnet in order to fill every available space within it and thus maximise my salad quantity – worked pretty well!

Day 2 in the Neolithic era or why boy scouts are useful @Neolithichouses #neobuild

Rather a broken night last night as there were loud nocturnal militarily manoeuvres going on. Not a problem in Neolithic times unless you had upset a neighbouring group. I am also suffering from being exposed to the sun yesterday, for the first time this year and am a delicate shade of lobster. Normally I don’t burn but my skin doesn’t remember when it last saw sunshine and is decidedly rosy in places.

Back on site and more yealming (it seems no one knows how to spell it). Some people are trying to weave mats. The rush ones are successful but straw much less so. As the descendant of a straw plaiter I am interested in whether the straw would have been split first. I can’t find a way of manually splitting straw – although I have non-Neolithic straw here. My dim and distance memories of college suggest Neolithic straw would have been spelter or emma. The straw is very brittle and not really workable.

Guy, our resident survival expert, has brought in his bow drill so we can try making fire without the aid of boy scouts’ legs to rub together. I tried this once as a girl guide (bow drilling not the boys scouts’ legs thing); I am sure it was comparatively easy. Guy has demonstrated – no trouble. Either bow drilling is less effort when one is a teenager or it is not comparatively easy. With Guy doing pretty much all of the work I create an ember but fail to get this to ignite the bundle of tinder in my hands. This does involve a great deal of steady blowing. If I am ever breathalized I shall now know what to do. Conscious that I should be back on site, I don’t try again but others are more successful. The best wood for the drill bit is hazel and lime is easiest to drill into. The cross piece on top of the bit should be holly, with some fat, a limpet shell, or maybe a holly leaf in the top to reduce the friction so you don’t start smoking at the wrong end. To get smoke and embers at the business end you need to create enough friction to generate a temperature of 800 degrees. Guy’s tinder included hay, honeysuckle, clematis and silver birch bark. He then used his ember to ignite a fungi known as King Alfred’s cakes, which looks a bit like a piece of coal. Apparently this can be kept glowing for up to forty minutes. Guy suggests that the effort required to bow drill a fire means that three times a day would be enough – he’s not wrong. There’s probably a knack to it – not one that I mastered.

24 April 2013 Me bow drilling 2

Our hay roof is complete and looks more like it might withstand something. Today’s discussions centre round how labour might have been divided up and the role of women who would presumably be pregnant or have small children most of the time. At the ages many of us are we would be almost certainly dead in Neolthic times, or if not dead, so ancient that we would be revered for our great wisdom and experience – I am still waiting for the reverence! People are starting to talk about ‘phase two’ when the houses are to be rebuilt at Stonehenge, in the light of our experience and using the best of the techniques that we have tried. Phase 2 does take place in January but could I? Might I? We have been very lucky to get a place on phase 1 as half of those who applied were unsuccessful.

In the absence if any television (our aerial is now not only antiquated but broken) I have been enjoying working my way through episodes of ‘The Bridge’, which Martha bought me on DVD. If, like me, you missed this on BBC TV, it is a dark Scandinavian crime drama with lots of ‘arty’ photography more sub-plots than Henry VIII had wives. I found the sub titles a little tiring at first but it was definitely worth persevering with and I was sad when it came to an end.

@NeolithicHouses or is ‘pig mud’ better than chalk?

We are locked in the caravan site until 9.00am – well, that’s a slight exaggeration, it would have been possible to arrange for an early departure but we didn’t. Other site users are looking at us as if setting off at 9.00am is certifiable. This trip the services are chosen for their free wi-fi. Free is a relative term. I’m sure you are expected to purchase a beverage in order to sit at a table to use the wi-fi. We aren’t daft, we check to see if there is actually a connection first. Initially it seems there isn’t. I pointedly stand under the ‘free wi-fi’ sign, balancing the computer precariously and manage to get my free connection. I find a table and we contrive to avoid having to procure any grossly overpriced food or drink. I have however had to agree to receive a bucket load of spam (a.k.a. marketing materials) in return for my ‘free’ access.

We are in a nice secluded campsite right on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border. We go for a recee so we can locate our Neolithic houses tomorrow. We have a quick whisk round Old Sarum Castle – very impressive but on a site that is best described as bracing. Good job I have brought my C17th spun and knitted hat. We are hoping to spot the houses that our predecessors on the project have nearly completed. Chris points out some cylindrical structures with conical roofs in a field. There seem to be rather a lot of them. It turns out that these are pig arcs. We ask and are directed to where we need to be tomorrow.

Neobuild day 1 dawns. It actually dawns warm and sunny, maybe I won‘t need the hat, gloves and three fleecy layers. We head off to the Neolithic era. No one at any point asks to see the vital piece of paper that Chris has forgotten anyway. Needless to say none of the essential safety boots are small enough for my feet – some will be ordered. Having checked with HQ it appears they probably don’t make them in my size – how may pairs of socks will I need? Incredibly however there are gloves large enough for Chris’ hands. Most of the 30 or so volunteers have been before, many are here for the whole project. The half a dozen newbies feel very much just that. First the health and safety induction – billed as ‘the most boring hour of your life’. All the essential stuff like where to run to if the bull in the adjoining field breaks down the fence and be sure to wash your hands after wallowing in pig poo. The project so far is then explained. Anyone hoping for easy jobs like making curtains or rag rolling walls may be disappointed! Lovely to see the first swallows of the year flying round our site.

We are relieved to find that we are not the only people of more mature years on site and our co-workers have some interesting and varied life stories. We are set to work thumbing over cracks that have appeared in the ‘pig mud’ daub. We are awaiting a delivery of more pig mud. Pig mud is not actually poo but the mud that the pigs have been churning up, usefully mixed with straw. Previous days’ work on site have discovered that pig mud is much less labour intensive than crushed chalk and water daub. We have a go at daubing with crushed chalk too and the pig mud method certainly seems the more effective.

I was expecting to have problems keeping up with a full day’s manual labour but life in the C17th is obviously harder than I realised as I have no difficulty at all – primarily because there are plenty of breaks and discussions about how things might have been achieved in Neolithic houses. One of the houses (or possibly not a house but an ancillary building) is tepee shaped. I spend the afternoon assisting with the thatching of a third of this. Three different methods are being attempted to help decide which is the most efficient/likely. I think I’m safe in saying not our way – on so many levels. It is important to try this in order to come to that conclusion though. Our section is closely woven with hazel at the bottom and willow at the top. This would be close enough for wattle and daub so has taken a great deal of materials and person hours to achieve. We are then yealming (possibly spelt wrong), which involves straightening out a bundle of hay. This is then doubled over and the uncut ends are shoved in a gap in the woven hazel wands. We are having trouble as our hay is much shorter than Neolithic hay would have been. Contrary to expectations, this doesn’t blow away instantly and is more efficient than you might think. We all decide that this is an unlikely method however – bearing in mind that this thatch reaches ground level, any passing sheep would eat your house. In addition hay would be too valuable as feed to use in this way as it takes an awful lot of hay. The counter argument to this is that the archaeological evidence suggests that the predominant animal in the lives of the former inhabitants of our houses was the pig and pigs would not need winter feeding but would forage for themselves.

By the time I arrive on the yealming/hay thatching team they have just about stuffed all the woven hazel that can be reached from the ground. We try several ways of reaching the higher parts. It seems we should perhaps have left a section in the middle to climb up and done that last. Bit late for that now and anyway the weaving is too tight to get steel capped safety boots in – Neolithic bare toes perhaps – or would they have had footwear – another debate. We try creating a ladder from hazel wands and securing it to the weaving – this works fairly well. I think shoving single pieces of wood through the hay to stand on is the best method although these do of course leave gaps when removed. Would they have been left in for repairs? We decide probably not as they would let water in. Experience suggests that there would have been some sort of conveyor belt system for passing up bundles of hay, although some of our team have created a sort of platform to rest a bundle of hay on, by inserting smallish sticks through the weave.

23 April 2013 Me hay thatching

As always, experimental archaeology is an interesting challenge – roll on day 2.

Censuses, C17th Cooking (sheep’s feet fritter recipe) and a bit of Co-habitation in between

If Cleveland FHS shared my obsession with alliteration there was a catchy C orientated title for their family history day somewhere in the above.

The second leg of our journey north passes pretty much without incident. As we enter Leicestershire there’s a sign for the ‘National Forest’ – no we had no idea either – suffice it to say the landscape was bereft of trees at that point. We stop at Tibshelf services, chosen as much for its cool name as for its half-wayness. Good job we didn’t chose it for its facilities as the ladies are closed for maintenance. We (well the females amongst us) are to use the disabled toilet. Then follows the dilemma of what to pull, push or turn so that one flushes the toilet rather than summons the emergency services. I wonder how two disabled toilets would cope if a couple of coaches were to descend on Tibshelf. On arrival, we find our caravan site is set in a lovely Yorkshire landscape, with horses, rabbits and not a lot else – apparently we have only just missed the snow.

Next day and we set off for the Scotch Corner Holiday Inn, a good venue for a conference – better still, they have free wi-fi – 90 e.mails have arrived in my inbox since I left Tewkesbury 24 hours ago. This does not bode well for 5 days without internet next week. The messages include an invitation to a thank you party for Neolithic House Builders – very kind of them as we haven’t actually done anything yet – I think Chris is wondering if he can skip the building part and just go to the thank you party.

It seems that yet again I am in the youngest 5% of those attending today’s conference and I may be being generous here – so sad that we cannot attract all the younger family historians out there to events such as this.

My first presentation is about the background to the censuses. It seems that there is still something you can tell an audience of family historians about the census. In case you missed it (and where were you?) I can pass on a couple of factoids – In 1881 there were 61,064 more married women than there were married men – so who’s deluded then! More worryingly, in a survey done in 2009, regarding the accuracy of transcriptions of the 1891 census, 43× 5% – yes that really is 43% of the transcriptions of surnames on Ancestry were wrong and 12× 1% of those on FindmyPast (Thanks to Peter Christian’s The Genealogists’ Internet for that one). It is to be hoped that many of those errors have been corrected by now – but still pretty scary! I also mention the 1881 census forgery that I helped to unmask. If you want to find it, it is there on FindmyPast for all to see. All you need to do is search under Pakistan in the birthplace. I am approached by attendees from Ontario – may they take one of my cards as Ontario Genealogical Society often bring people over? – may they? Take one, take half a dozen – I try not to grovel too much. Chris is already trying to work out how uncomfortable it would be to wear C17th boots on a flight to Canada and if he can get a clyster syringe past customs – even he realises a musket might be a non-starter.

Sandwiched between my two presentations is an excellent session by Rebecca Probert on Sex, Illegitimacy and Co-habitation – she’s on to a winner just with her title really. Her research has shown that 40% of C18th marriages did not take place in the parish where a couple subsequently lived; nor did they take place in an adjacent parish – a  warning to us to cast our net ever wider. Good to catch up with old friends from my days on the executive of the Federation of Family History Societies – how many lifetimes ago was that? All the attendees here are very friendly – everything one is led to expect from Yorkshire folk.

Chris explains to my afternoon audience that Dr Janet Few has gone for a lie down – all the excitement of being so far north – and they are stuck with Mistress Agnes instead. I am lurking in a corridor waiting to make my entrance. I have done a quick change into C17th costume in said corridor, much to the consternation of the hotel staff. I have remembered to bring the mike with me and have miked myself up with difficulty – no pockets in C17th garb so I’ve shoved the mike pack down my bodice making me a very peculiar shape. Forgetting that I have turned the mike on to avoid scrambling down my bodice once on ‘stage’, I blow my nose vociferously. Fortunately for me and my audience, I am too far from the transmitter for this to be picked up.

As Mistress Agnes, I regale them with recipes and cooking methods of the C17th. At the end, a lady asks if I am a food expert – anything further removed from being a food expert than I would be hard to imagine. It turns out that she is the food expert – I hope I haven’t made any huge gaffs but she hasn’t spotted any. My books are flying off the table like hot jumbles (keeping the C17th theme here you’ll see). A quarter of my audience now possess a copy of Coffers, Clysters – brilliant – I can only assume they either liked what they heard or I was so unintelligible that they needed to read it as well!

I know you enjoyed the roast cow’s udder so how about making fritters of sheep’s feet?

Take your sheep’s feet, slit them and set them a stewing in a silver dish with a little strong broth and salt, with a stick of cinnamon, two or three cloves, and a piece of an orange pill. When they are stewed, take them from the liquor and lay them upon a pye-plate cooling. When they are cold, have some good fritter-batter made with sack, and dip them therein. Then have ready to fry them, some excellent clarified butter very hot in a pan, and fry them therein. When they are fryed wring in the juyce of three or four oranges, and toss them once or twice in a dish, and so serve them to the table. (From W. M’s The Compleat Cook).

The following day the next stage of our round Britain trip takes us back down south to Rutland. The Sat-nav is disconcerted because as far as she is concerned, we spend a fair proportion of the journey driving through fields. It is third time lucky with the hunt for services. The first, though liberally signed, is boarded up, so we have a nice tour of their car park. The next is open but not signed at all so we miss the turnoff. We near our destination. I look at the directions in the caravan club book (never renowned for their precision) just as we pass a sign, which Chris has spotted, to Rutland Caravan Park. He has forgotten however that our destination is Rutland Caravan Park and anyway he is still dutifully following the Sat-nav who claims we have four miles to go. We are going to Park Lane, Greetham, so is she, well actually she isn’t, she is going to Park Lane, Greetham, Oakham – a different place entirely and not in Greetham at all.

We go to the nearest T****s to collect supplies. A notice tells me they have 100’s of new products. 100’s? does no one check these notices? I have been known to boycott places for lesser crimes against the apostrophe but this is the only supermarket for ten miles. I sneak a bag of bargain price Crunchie Rocks into the trolley. They contain an appalling 880 calories for a third of a bag. This means I can probably eat one rock without putting on half a stone. Nonetheless on returning to the van I look forward to my Crunchie rock treat. Crunchie – you know – honeycomb and chocolate, yes? Or no, these contain a flavour I don’t recognise. I consult the list of ingredients in point -10 type. Cornflakes! They contain cornflakes! True they allegedly also contain chocolate and honeycomb but any honeycomb present wasn’t in the err umm three that I ate (I had to check didn‘t I?). Mind you they might have been even more calories if they had been all honeycomb. I generously donate the remainder of the packet to Chris who can consume any number of calories without gaining weight.

Oakham (county town of Rutland) seems a very pleasant middle-England sort of a market town. The local cottages are a warm yellow stone and have steeply thatched roofs. This campsite was partly selected because it had wi-fi and I have some hours left on my purchased caravan club wi-fi. It turns out that it has a different sort of wi-fi – this is harsh. Downloading will have to wait for another day. I know, I should have a blueberry mobile phone or what ever it is. For someone reasonably tech-savvy, I have an aversion to mobile phones – do I even know where mine is? I use it so rarely that I have to make sure I ring my land line up with it very three months to stop myself being disconnected. I used to just ring but I was still blackballed so I have to actually pick up the land line phone and answer myself; I’ve even been known to say ‘hello’ to check I’m there.

Looking forward to speaking at Cleveland FHS’s open day and a week with @NeolithicHouses

The last instalment found us in Cambridge for a wedding. A certain amount of amusement was caused during a trip to a restaurant post wedding. I am not quite sure what cuisine it was – Turkish possibly – but the mixed grill was reassuringly familiar. Chris goes to pay by credit card. Having not brought his glasses he has no chance with the ‘check the amount’ bit. It seems the very small screen is asking him if he wishes to add a tip. He can’t see this either. It is a relief to find, when the receipt is printed, that he hasn’t parted with a six figure sum. More car problems on the return journey. This time the rear windscreen wiper won’t stop windscreen wipering – it isn’t raining. The only way to stop it is to open the rear window. Fortunately the single figure temperatures of last week have given way to something actually resembling spring.

Home for a few days in order to remind myself what my house looks like and to work. I am tasked with instructing a fifteen year old in the intricacies of armour wearing. This should be a breeze but said fifteen year old is six foot seven – mmm step ladder required. Also spent time with some lovely people researching their Buckland Brewer ancestors – there are however just too many people called William Squire for comfort.

3rd weekend in April, 3rd destination. This time we are off to Darlington where I am giving 2 talks at Cleveland FHS’s day conference. I am speaking twice so they get some sort of value for the expenses they will need to part with for my 720 mile round trip. Have talk will travel, that’s me. We are then planning to go straight to Old Sarum from Darlington for our Neolithic House Building project. Away we go. There was probably the brightest rainbow I have ever seen just as we turn off the M4; hope this is a good omen. We reach Tewkesbury, our normal breaking-a-long-journey site. Tewkesbury is one of the caravan sites where our antiquated television aerial fails to receive any sort of signal. I had forgotten this and am disappointed to miss ‘Pointless’. Chris had remembered about the lack of television signal. What he has however forgotten is his joining instructions as a volunteer Neolithic House Builder. Yes, that would be the instructions that say you MUST (capital letters, underlined) bring these with you. I can see me building alone although I intend exploiting the small print in the volunteer handbook that says English Heritage will help us solve any problems that may arise, in order to get him through the security cordon.