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.
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.