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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Clarke Kent Syndrome 2: a warning from the present


Since my last posting it has been (somewhat delicately) pointed out to me that, just like Horatio Smith and Daniel Jackson before, I also appear to be suffering (at least in the early stages) from CKS (Clark Kent Syndrome)....how could I have missed it?....the signs were so obvious...the symptoms so clear. 




This, as noted already, is a condition that seems to affect the 'fashion' of the 'archaeologist' (two words that should not normally be placed together in the same sentence), especially the academic archaeologist, more than any other profession (although, as the name implies, it also affects aliens from the planet Krypton who are hiding on Earth pretending to be journalists). It would therefore seem that I have been in the world of academia for too long and need to 'get out more' (to be fair, people have been saying this for a while). 

Apologies then to my readers (both of you). I'm now off to complete the only known course of treatment, lying down in a darkened finds hut trying not to think about anything archaeological for at least fortnight....it's going to be tough, but it's the only way.

Friday, 21 December 2012

No Decorum in the Forum 3: Plebgate


And so the furore continues about who said what to whom, how much Latin was used and who, precisely, cares.

Ex-Tory Whip Andrew Mitchell claimed that he did NOT direct the word 'Pleb' at a serving police officer guarding the gates to Downing Street now may be actually prove to have some substance. As a result, many Conservative MPs are now calling for his reinstatement and rehabilitation....er, now hang on a minute. This is a politician who freely admits that he swore (using all manner of apparently acceptable earthy Anglo Saxon expletives) at two serving police officers for the heinous crime of preventing him from cycling through a non-cycling gateway (and therefore causing him the agony of having to walk with his bike, thus extending his journey by all of 13 seconds). 




For the embarrassment of having to so publicly conform to regulations, Mitchell seemed to think it was fine to direct all manner of expletives at the police.

Swearing at a police officer is an arrestable offence (at least for those not in the Conservative party), but the press seems to have been most concerned about the apparent use by Mitchell of the word 'Pleb', a Latin word for the great unwashed, which Mitchell has always denied having used (apparently he thinks he used 'a milder' version of the word....er....no, I don't know either). Curiously, the use of Latin in this context does not, at least to me, to be the main concern. No one, least of all Mitchell himself, seems to dispute that he overreacted and that offensive swear words were used, possibly with some force, at serving police officers. Now I'm sure the officers in concern were thick skinned grown-ups who are sadly used to being called far worse, but a serving politician should know better, should lead by example and should not flaunt regulations (then default to foul-mouth mode when caught out).

Plebgate (possibly the only time that the word 'gate' has been applied to a scandal where a real gate has formed the focus of attention) has now become an argument about who said what to whom, who was there and whether a Latin word that some may find abusive (but most probably won't) was or was not said. Trouble is, the press (and indeed all the Tory MPs who are now lining up to support Mitchell) seem to be saying now that "it's OK to swear at the police; it's ok to flaunt the law if you think you own the country". 

"...just don't use Latin when you do.."   

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Happy Birthday Piltdown Man

Happy birthday Piltdown Man...100 years old yesterday.



Piltdown Man (or Eoanthropus dawsoni to give him his proper name) remains the greatest scientific hoax (that we know of in any case) of all time, the fragments of human skull, an ape-like jaw and worked flints unearthed to the south of a quiet Sussex village, was, a century ago, hailed by the world’s press as the most sensational archaeological find ever: the ‘missing link’ in the chain of evolution. The news spread quickly, anthropologists, geologists, and archaeologists all voicing their eagerness to examine the find. The cradle of humanity was to be found in the counties of southern England; it was official.

Of course it wasn't..

The “Earliest Englishman” was a hoax (not just any old hoax mind, the London Star declared it at the time to be “THE BIGGEST SCIENTIFIC HOAX OF THE CENTURY”). There never had been a ‘missing link’ preserved in the gravels of Piltdown; the whole discovery had been part of an elaborate and complex archaeological forgery.


Well ok we don't know exactly when the most famous scientific hoax was precisely 'born' but we can be pretty sure when he was conceived (somewhere between November 1911 and February 1912) and we can be sure that, after a 10 month gestation period, he was officially brought kicking and screaming into the world on the evening of the 18th December 1912 at a meeting of the Geological Society in London. It was there that the 'finder' of the Earliest Englishman, Charles Dawson, together with his co-director, Arthur Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum, presented the artefacts and their theory to the hushed audience. 100 years to the day I was in that self same room in the geological society giving a paper on Charles Dawson and why it now seems pretty clear that he was indeed the perpetrator of the hoax (and of at least 35 previous offences which also now need to be taken into consideration), which was kinda spooky, but good, in terms of 'resolution'.

Piltdown is one of the most famous 'brand names' in archaeology today, something that annoys a lot of people (as it's not a genuine archaeological find and, worse, it's something which successfully derailed research into the human past for a not inconsiderable period of time), but I admit to finding the tale rather comforting (in a strange way) as it's the point of which archaeology, as a science, woke up and grew up, becoming far more questioning, and far more critical about the nature of 'evidence', in the process. It was, after all, the archaeological finds of early humans made around the world in the years after 1912, with their more human faces and ape-like skulls that helped dethrone Piltdown Man (which had these critical features in the wrong order), way before the nature of the hoax was finally revealed in 1953.

I have to say that I also have a bit of a soft spot for Charles Dawson. Not for what he did (that was ultimately unforgivable), but for the way that he did it. Dawson was a masterful forger: he gave people what he knew they wanted and what they had searched for for so long. He also did everything with such style. What would have happened had he been found out in his life (he died in 1916) we will never know, but I'm sure he would have 'gotten away with it too' (in classic Scooby Doo style), if only it hadn't 'been for those darned kids' in 1953. 


When Dawson died, Piltdown man’s story ended too, there being no more finds of the most elusive of Englishmen from the gravel pits of Sussex.

So, rest in peace Charles Dawson, FSA, FGS (1864-1916) and Eoanthropus dawsoni (1912-53)...



...and HAPPY BIRTHDAY !

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Workplace Jargon: 2

The thing about field archaeologists, in my experience, is that they call a spade a spade (their work in dealing with past societies telling them that life is too short to do otherwise). The thing about managerial bureaucrats is, in my experience, they get so wrapped up in mystifying their work (in order to justify their own existence) that they would prefer to call a spade a steel-bladed soil interface device.

The trouble with working in a modern University today is that the differing worlds of 'real work' and managerial bureaucracy will not ever collide (nor be satisfactorily joined). There will always be some element of conflict. This conflict is nowhere clearer than in the classroom, as the chief objectives of a university degree programme are, in my opinion, to get the students to work hard, to keep an open mind, think for themselves, question everything and speak / write clearly and intelligently. The chief objectives of bureaucracy are, in my experience, the exact opposite: work as little as possible, maintain a blinkered view, question nothing and speak / write in an obtuse and confusing manner (Douglas Adams, in an all too common moment of quite beautiful clarity, observed that Bureaucracy in its purest form “is a parasite that preys on free thought and suffocates free spirit").

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you an example of the ever expanding gulf between rationality and bureaucratic technobabble taken from a document which I (foolishly in retrospect) opened in the hope that it might explain how a particular element at work (my workplace environment) could help (facilitate) with my teaching (student interfacing) and research (enterprise shopfronting). Here is what the manager (head of enterprise architecture) said to help (facilitate) my understanding (cognitive comprehension) of what his team (workplace collective) could offer (their 'deliverable objectives') and what they hoped to achieve (their 'vision').

To understand business and academic requirements providing an effective and efficient support service for staff, students, the learning and teaching environment and research and enterprise activities to a high level of customer satisfaction

Ok, lost me a bit after ‘understand’, but I think I'm still with you…

To provide information systems which meet the academic and administrative demands and requirements of the University both in terms of functionality and business benefits in improving effectiveness and efficiency and in delivery of learning and teaching as well as research and enterprise

...er.....

To implement a network and technical infrastructure which has the capacity to support the increasing demand for network bandwidth, database activity and file and document management providing security, resilience and business continuity

...erm...

To implement a teaching, desktop, mobile working and remote access infrastructure, making use of technological developments to optimise access to information systems to meet a variety of staff and student requirements.

My own particular vision, after reading this gem of plain speaking, is a lot simpler, and one which I will gladly share with you, for it involves the head of enterprise architecture unexpectedly discovering that their operational bandwidth has been enlarged through the judicious application of a steel-bladed soil interface device directly to their insecure and decidedly unresilient career hub.

Now, back to the grindstone (coarse-grained Carboniferous sandstone hand-turned rotary device).





Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Clark Kent Syndrome: a warning from history

I blame Superman.

Seriously. Thanks to the Man of Steel's rather ludicrous disguise, when not leaping buildings in a single bound (or cleaning toilets with a single growl), the be-caped, pant-over-the-tights-wearing super dude slipped easily back unoticed into the shadows of Metropolis, simply by doning a tweed jacket and a pair of glasses. Was I the only one screaming at the comic page / cinema screen / TV "for pity's sake Lois, Clark Kent IS Superman, look at him LOOK AT HIM, it's Superman with glasses on....he's even got the SAME VOICE !!!", but no, the ace reporter from the Daily Planet and every other citizen of Metropolis looked straight at Clark Kent, and saw only Clark Kent. They did not see the the evil-mastermind-fighting caped crusading hunk beneath.

Why would they?

No evil-mastermind-fighting caped crusading hunk would EVER don glasses and a tweed jacket would they? What a masterful disguise indeed.




Indeed yes, but boy what an effect Clarke Kent Syndrome (or CKS) has had upon the archaeological profession, well at least those antiquarian explorers who occupy the quasi-fantastical world of cinema. For most authors / screenwriters / directors / producers, the imbalance between the monotonously dull chalk-and-talk world of academia and the gut-wrenchingly exciting world of tomb-raiding field archaeology cannot easily be resolved. How can the teacher become the explorer; the academic become the adventurer?

Well, quite easily as it happens....by utilising CKS. Yes, simply by taking their glasses off anything can happen! Easy really...don't know why I didn’t think of it before. 

Glasses imply years of studious, eye-damaging research (or, perhaps, some rather less sanitary personal habit). Simply by removing said lenses, the pop culture academic archaeologist transforms instantly into a treasure seeking, bear-baiting, Nazi fighting, alien awakening, thrill-seeking adventurer. See his jaw become square before your very eyes. Gasp at her miraculously lustrous hair. Gawp at his instant designer stubble. Shriek at her insanely dangerous eyes. Shout at....well, you get the picture.



If you don't, here's something that may explain CKS and those who suffer from it. 




Horatio Smith (Pimpernel Smith)





Evelyn Carnahan (The Mummy / The Mummy Returns)




Daniel Jackson (Stargate)




Henry Walton 'Indiana' Jones Jnr.
(Raiders of the Lost Ark - Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

Remember to give generously this Christmas....CKS can really mess with your head.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Testing times

It's that time of year again: time to put metaphorical pen to non-existent paper and compose the end of academic year exams. I'm sure that, in a civilised world, there should be no need for exams to exist, but they do and there's little I can really do to change that - still, as I sit here attempting to make the questions legible, comprehensible and (hopefully) a gift to anyone with knowledge, interest and a questioning mind, I am constantly reminded that nature and context of the exam itself can occasionally generate a degree of brain-freeze in which simple terminology gets mixed up and names become garbled and confused. In most cases, de-garblification is a relatively simple process for the examiner, but sometimes, just sometimes, the accidental mis-spelling or unintentional replacement of a particular word, term or name can provide a momentary flash of relief for the marker, reminding them that the world is, after all, a rather lovely place. 

In one memorable past exam answer, since you ask, an examinee, successfully managed to confuse the ancient name of Colchester (Camulodunum) with the leader of British resistance against the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 (Caratacus) in order to tell me that:

Having defeated the army of Camulodunum, the emperor Claudius entered Caratacus in triumph

as well he might have done. Sadly this particular eye watering scene is not otherwise recorded in the contemporary Roman sources nor in any more recent recreation or reconstruction drawing (although maybe it should). 

Another favourite, and one that still has the capacity to generate fits of schoolboy sniggering (when I try to visualise it), was the examinee who unfortunately forgot that the Latin term for 'shield' is Scutum, resulting in the impressive statement that:

The Roman soldier charged into battle protected only by his scrotum

They were a tough lot those Romans....




Monday, 29 October 2012

All Archaeologists are Evil: 2


Most archaeologists I know (and trust me, I know an awful lot) feel as if they are the 'good guys', constantly battling property developers, motorway builders and politicians (the 'bad guys') in order to save a few tantalising morsels of history from the unceasingly ravenous jaws of mechanical diggers. They are the heroes of history, the (literally) underground resistance, the liberators of truth the....well, you get the picture. 

Sadly popular culture, as I think I've noted before, doesn't see the profession in quite the same light. Yes, archaeologists appear with surprising regularity in films, books, radio plays and TV programmes and, I have to say, they are almost always living an extremely exciting existence, solving ancient puzzles, smashing into lost tombs, discovering dead civilisations, unearthing treasure, swinging from trees, battling Nazis, combating conspiracies, avoiding alien incursions etc etc (and many geologists / geographers / anthropologists / mathematicians that I know, and trust me I know an awful lot, often tell me (sometimes quite forcefully) that they wish that their profession was portrayed in film and on TV in such an exhilarating way), but, if you watch carefully and 'read between the lines', you will discover that the archaeologists themselves are rarely (if ever at all) the 'good guys'. 

Usually they are the bad / evil / despicable / warped / malicious / unpleasant guys. The kind of guys you would not wish to meet or share a drink / expedition / tent / bath with. They are the doom-bringers; the curse-unleashers / the destroyers of worlds.


A recent discussion on an archaeological web forum became extremely heated when the topic of archaeo fiction came up. “So what?” was the general consensus of opinion “if the public sees all archaeologists as 'heroic' thieves like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones?”; “So what if the media thinks we’re only after loot / treasure / gold / life altering sums of money?”; “So what if the writers and broadcasters of fiction see us as villains and bad guys?”; “It doesn’t matter. Get a life - its not real!”.

Ok, so Coronation Street, Eastenders, Dallas, Hollyoaks, Neighbours, Doctors, Young Doctors, Pobol y Cwm, Emmerdale and other pop culture TV soaps aren’t real (well done for noticing that by the way): they are all fiction. Most people know this (at least I hope they do). Most of the people who watch and avidly follow such TV series probably prefer the fictional world created within them to the daily grind of REAL life, just as most followers of Sci Fi staples such as Star Trek (in all its syndicated varieties) and Doctor Who know that the worlds presented in these programmes aren’t real, but find them a useful substitute for reality (and why not?). The main issue is, I think (at least from my own slightly warped perspective) is that Coronation Street, Eastenders, Dallas, Hollyoaks, Neighbours, Doctors, Young Doctors, Pobol y Cwm, Emmerdale and Doctor Who regularly attract audiences (in Britain anyway) in the millions whilst Star Trek and other syndicated dramas attract significantly more through broadcast repeats and DVD sales around the globe. They have an impact - certainly one greater than any dry and factual excavation report or jolly popular, coffee-book style photo-filled take on the past.

Every long term TV series has, at some stage in its lifecycle, an archaeologist appearing in it and these archaeo explorers are, more often than not, deeply unpleasant individuals obsessed with only one thing: the acquisition of loot to the detriment of all else (including their own personal relationships and large numbers of innocent lives). More people, I guess, will watch and digest the stereotypical view of ‘the archaeologist’ as depicted in these prime slices of televisual pop culture, than will ever see the reality of the professional at work.


Stereotypes are, by their nature of course, merely exaggerated versions of reality. Stereotypical doctors, estate agents, law enforcers, fire-fighters, teachers and solicitors also all appear with great regularity within pop culture, especially within the world of televised fiction. Most stereotype professionals, however unrealistic these portrayals may be, are deeply ingrained within the public consciousness, to be regurgitated again and again by the writers of televisual and cinematic fiction. In the majority of cases, however damaging or unrealistic the stereotype, we the audience can safely acknowledge that: “REAL Doctors / teachers / solicitors / firefighters / law enforcement agents / refuse collectors etc aren’t actually like that”, because most of us encounter doctors, teachers, solicitors, firefighters, law enforcement agents,  refuse collectors etc on a daily basis.

At least 98% (a guess, but close to the truth I would suggest) of the population probably do not regularly encounter archaeologists in their day to day life, so the reality (or unreality) of the stereotype cannot ever be satisfactorily, or indeed objectively, assessed. The stereotype is plausible. The stereotype is believed.

If the public perception of what an archaeologist is and what they do is coming primarily through fiction, rather than solid fact, then what, if anything, should archaeologists be doing to counter such rampant stereotype negativity? Archaeologists could, of course, acknowledge the fact that their pop culture representative is a treasure hunting hero / gun toting psychopath / doom-bringing villain and perhaps work within this (although perhaps not to the extent of always wearing battered leather jackets and carrying whips), educating people through emotive imagery towards the reality of genuine discovery: “The past is a vibrant and exciting place for a modern audience, and you don’t need Indiana Jones to provide unnecessary and wholly artificial hype”. Not sure it would work...in fact it might even  harden the stereotype, but I put it out there as a suggestion.

Alternatively, the archaeological community could openly reject the pop culture character, explain why, and attempt to create an image that they are generally happier with and which they find closer to reality. To some extent, the recent spate of archaeological and anthropological television programming is successfully achieving this particular aim, bringing archaeological discovery to the fore and altering the whole nature of the fictional pop culture persona. 

Or, archaeologists could (as the majority have traditionally done) totally ignore pop culture (staying firmly in the 1960s and 70s), only sticking their heads above the spoil heap long enough to scoff “It’s just fiction – REAL archaeology isn’t like that”.


After all:

1) The pop-culture archaeologist lives in a world of adventure and excitement

2) They are thrill-seeking egotists, obsessed with the importance of their own discoveries and their own personal fame.

3) They destroy the career of anyone who gets in their way.

4) They desire vast personal wealth through the accumulation of prized artefacts.


5) They are people who refuse to communicate their ideas and discoveries to the public.

6) They are people who care not one jot about society, and who could quite happily endanger large numbers of people just so they could dig the site / tomb / burial ground that they want.

7) They are totally dysfunctional.

8) They are scheming, violent, gun-toting, loot-obsessed alcoholics.



9) They are villains and misfits.

11) They are intrinsically evil.

And we know that, in reality, archaeologists just aren’t like that..... 

....are they?

....hang on....don't tell me, I know this....  

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Workplace jargon


So there I was in a meeting.

Seriously, I don't know why I do this to myself. Someone, and sadly I can't recall who, once said that the Roman Empire never had meetings, seminars and workplace discussion groups - they were successful because they just went out and got things done. Now, I assume they must have been referring to Rome's ability to build, create and inspire, rather than their expertise at industrialised slaughter (unmatched until the 20th century) - at least I hope they were. I kinda see their point though as, every once in a while, I feel that I really should attend a meeting, even though it means losing 3 hours of my life when I really could be doing something far more useful, and find out what's going on and how things can be improved...etc...trouble is I always leave meetings with an immense sense of dejection and annoyance. Why? Well, I can explain in two simple words:

Workplace jargon

Two words, easy to explain but far far less easy to deal with. I've previously discussed my love / hate relationship with 'double-speak' - the euphemism, misinformation and verbal camouflage deployed by officials, bureaucrats, civil servants, the military, managers and others (who evidently feel inferior to their fellow man / woman) in order to hide 'the truth' (or make it more palatable to the uninitiated). Trouble is, on the one hand, I can't help but admire double-speak (for its unabashed, naked affront), whilst I simultaneously despise it (for adding a layer of unnecessary complication to things that should be far simpler to comprehend).  

Anyway, there I was in a meeting. I knew it was going to be awkward from the start, for the chair (a person rather than an inanimate wooden object) was asked a difficult question and instantly reverted to the default setting of extreme jargon. The following examples are recorded 'as they were spoke': 

We need to maximise blue-sky thinking

I hear this one a lot, but am ultimately none the wiser - I think 'blue sky thinking' is supposed to relate to some form of creative process, but to me the words 'blue' and 'sky' when added to the word 'thinking' convey a deep sense of relaxation; perhaps lying on my back in thick grass staring up at a clear, blue summer sky and drifting slowly (and contentedly) off to sleep (preferably after a large and deeply satisfying lunch involving a vast quantity of cheese). This is, I'm guessing, not the meaning that practitioners of double-speak intend. Sleep can be remarkably creative, it is true, but I'm not sure that any of my dreams would be particularly useful in the workplace (as they usually end with me chasing a Disney cartoon character (generally Donald Duck) around a shopping centre with a baseball bat covered in trifle shouting "eat it you pathetic excuse for an animal" or some such). If they really want to harness the creative potential of sleep, however, then I'm more than happy to clear my desk, set out a blanket and doze for the larger part of the working day....suits me.

Thinking outside the box

I don't know about you, but I never think that I'm in a box to start with. The only time I ever feel particularly claustrophobic is, surprisingly enough, when I'm in the middle of a meeting (especially if it's held in a room with no natural light or air circulation). Under such circumstances I am more than happy to 'think outside the box' if that is taken to mean 'leave the meeting immediately, climb the nearest hill, lie down for a bit and engage in all that thinking about a blue sky).

Create the storyboard

Sorry, are we in the middle of a scripted scene? Is what we perceive to be reality in reality false? Are we, in fact, employed to write fiction in order to sustain this false reality? If so, for whom? About what? Will it have a beginning, middle and end? Will it be filled with mindless violence involving a trifle? Will there be cheese?

Joined-up thinking

You mean thinking...just thinking, plain and simple. Show me an employee who doesn't think and I'll show you a cat in trousers - in fact show me a hill to lie upon and I'll climb up there, lie down and think with the best of them.

Cover all points of the compass

Presumably as I attempt to find a suitable hill to lie down on?

Off the shelf

To be honest I don't get to take stuff off the shelves much - in fact what I need are more shelves to put things on. Anyone who has been to my office can testify that I although I am apparently in possession of a desk, three chairs a side table and 2 square metres of carpet (red, I think), all these items of furniture are liberally scattered (or deeply buried) in research work (current), research work (on hold), research work (abandoned because I can't find it under the other research work), student assignments (marked), student assignments (being marked), student assignments (double marked), student assignments (awaiting moderation), books (read), books (unread), books (awaiting to be returned to the library) and other general bits of paperwork requiring my urgent attention (going back to July of last year). Never mind all this talk of 'paperless offices', I need far more shelf space, or, failing that, more space (so that I can get halfway close to my existing shelves in order to see what is there before I even consider taking anything off them). 

Keep me in the loop

Why, don't you want to get out of the box (where, I presume, the loop is kept) so that you can climb a hill and think about blue skies? I know I do.

Singing from the same hymn sheet

Do people not sing from the same hymn sheet and, if they don't, surely that's tantamount to religious suicide (guaranteeing hasty removal from the church)? Given that I can't actually sing, I really have no intention of joining in anyway - I can mime quite well though, does that help?

Pushing the envelope

I've never 'pushed' an envelope before - is this a drug reference?

Academic under-pinning

Like a building? Why didn't anyone check to see what the geology was like before anything academic went up? Sounds like shoddy research to me.

Get our ducks in a row

Seriously? We have to arrange ducks now? Isn't this the responsibility of the head of water-based life form coordination? 

The helicopter view

Of the blue sky? Surely if you're in a helicopter, all you can see is the green grass / grey concrete below, the blue sky being something that you inhabit (thus ruining both the view and the thought processes of those lying on their backs on the hill below you).

The list goes on for another two pages, but my patience, sadly, does not and, in any case, I'm afraid that I'm already seven hours late for a meeting.... 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Factutainment: an archaeological quandary

It's getting very difficult to differentiate fact from fiction at the moment. Maybe my critical facilities are failing or, perhaps more likely (and indeed far more hopefully) it's the clear lack of distinction on TV between documentary / factu-mentary / docu-drama / dramamentary / factutainment / edutainment etc...in the days of old everything was far more effectively differentiated.

Documentaries used to be serious affairs, all big music and big statements and were usually hosted by big if rather dull types (usually men) with big beards (again, usually men) into which they mumbled incessantly about the price of cod, whilst posing manfully in big brown suits (or big jumpers), corduroy flares and kipper ties. Fictional dramas, on the other hand, had big men with big accents, big hats and big sideburns and big women with big hair, big dresses and big cleavages striding around big panelled rooms, colliding with big furniture and hitting small servants round the head. Occasionally they waggled a naked buttock at each other and / or fell off a horse whilst saying 'arrrr'.

The distinction between FACT based tale and FICTIONAL drama was, therefore, relatively clear cut. You knew what you were getting when you pressed the brick-sized button on the bottom of the wall-sized television and awaited the flickering pictures as the TV began the 15 minute process of firing up. Today I feel that the distinction between fact and fiction has become ever more blurred and that sometimes it is not always clear what, precisely, it is that you are being presented with. There are, for example, significant dramatisations embedded within serious documentaries (taking the 'story' into a poorly defined world of actor-based fiction, 'recreating' a series of historical (or archaeologically interpreted) events that may not even have happened). There are also pure dramas which harness and exploit the 'feel' of serious news in order to provide their own peculiar brand of fiction a greater degree of 'realism'.

Let me explain.

Last week I settled down in front of the idiot's lantern and was confronted by, what I assumed to be, a new documentary on Roman Britain. The piece started well enough, a dramatic recreation of the druids last stand against the might of Rome (on Anglesey?), although the small numbers of actors on screen (two) suggested a somewhat limited budget. Cut to a modern school playing field in Essex where development appeared to have struck an undisturbed Romano British site. Investigation is low key, probably, I muse, because the local council has done a deal with the developers who, in turn, are building 'sustainable, affordable housing on brown field land' or something and, therefore, there is no automatic budget for archaeological works nor is there a serious attempt to consider environmental impact. Typical. Still, at least two archaeologists are at hand to monitor the investigation and, as far as I can see, they've harnessed the potential of the school environment, developing some sort of community project involving a number of interested locals. Good...warms the heart.

We are told that a 'Geofizz' survey, conducted out of shot, apparently suggests the presence of "a well or shaft" of some kind close to the main area of investigation. Annoyingly the results (resistivity? magnetometry??) are not presented in front of the cameras nor are they explained in any kind of detail, presumably because the documentary director felt that such datasets would be too boring for the TV audience. Irritating when that happens - we, the viewing public should be credited with at least some intelligence.

The excavation itself was being funded by ‘University College Texas’, who seemed to have brought some pretty impressive kit with them, their lead operative working with a "3D info cam" apparently "the latest hi tech camera". It certainly looked impressive. There was no explanation of how it worked exactly, but the detailed way in which every millimetre of the trench wall and floor was being instantly recorded and rapidly interpreted made my mouth water. I made a mental note to check how much was left in our own university field equipment budget and see whether anyone was selling discounted 3D info cams online.

In contrast to the UCT team, the British excavators on site seemed to prefer a more basic set of equipment, their lead digger sarcastically noting (apparently, so she thought, off camera) that they had only a K.O.S or 'knackered old spade' (which she called 'Sam' - nothing really unusual in that I thought, my favourite spade, with the less friendly name 'brain-biter' and mattock, 'flint-gnasher', sit happily in my office just waiting for action). Transatlantic tensions were clearly the main focus of attention for the director, again to my annoyance - this 'Big Brother' style format - the desire to concentrate on social conflict at the expense of anything remotely educational is something that I increasingly find irritating - take Rome Wasn't built in a day the four part TV documentary about building a Roman townhouse in Wroxeter using traditional Roman techniques and materials which swiftly descended into a slice of 'fly on the wall' Big Brother socio-mentary, whole scenes comprising builders swearing at each other and lying face down in a ditch...

It wasn't until the eagle standard of the ninth legion came tumbling out of the section edge, followed very closely by 'druidic metalwork' that I began to feel a little bit uncomfortable...this was all a bit too good to be true wasn't it? The denarius finally dropped with the arrival of international crime organisation SKUL and a unit of school-age super spies....I realised with some horror that I was watching an episode of M.I. High on the CBBC channel....

....bum.

Two days later I awoke from marking induced stupor (happens a lot I'm afraid) to find the TV on, but the sound down. As my eyes focused I realised that there was a news reporter on screen with some sort of medieval helmet on his head, gurning wildly at the camera. The man was manically waving his arms about, clearly in a state of heightened excitement. Behind him lay a deep trench, evidently archaeological, cut through what appeared to be a car park (it was).

I turned the volume up.

"Geotechnical magnetism" the man was enthusing "led the archaeologists to this spot and here they dug and here they found the remains of the King". I groaned inwardly. Not another King Arthur / search for the Holy Grail type archaeo-spoof. 'Geotechnical Magnetism' indeed; why couldn't script writers even try to make things sound remotely plausible? Still, they'd got the look of the news cast right, and the mock trench had been peopled with actors that actually did look like archaeologists (and who were wearing, beneath  reflective jackets, exactly the right sort of faded T shirt and mud splattered, multi-pocketed camouflage trousers). The set designers had even dressed the location up realistically with plausible looking survey equipment as well as wheel barrows that looked as if they had seen considerable action (some of which even had the appearance of having died in action) and there were shovels, spades and mattocks. Trowels were worn down to satisfyingly small shapes, not the long and pointy types freshly acquired from the nearest builder's merchants or DIY store.


The tireless reporter was now speaking to someone about whether or not this "could be the mortal remains of the King". I had a momentary fear that he would suddenly declare that he'd found Elvis, but luckily those fears proved unfounded. "Could be" the interviewee smiled somewhat cryptically, "he certainly seems to have sustained a number of injuries to the head and upper body and, intriguingly, appears to have had some sort of injury to his back resulting in one shoulder being higher than the other".

There was a pause in which I felt I ought to be impressed.

Obviously I had missed an earlier part of the documentary - probably a CGI gore fest showing King Arthur being struck down by Mordred, sustaining a series of head and back injuries in the process, in a climatic battle scene (Camlann probably), his sword falling to the ground in agonisingly slow motion. I half expected to see an Indiana Jones type in fedora and leather jacket emerge from behind the spoil heap with the sun blazing dramatically behind him, sword in hand whilst he breathlessly announced to the world that he had "found Excalibur"...

But no.

Instead we cut to straight to a church interior and the reporter, now in tweed jacket, clasping a picture of...wait a minute...that's Richard III isn't it? Hang on....

Realisation dawned. This was REAL LIFE (or as real as could be established under the circumstances) and these were REAL PEOPLE (not actors)...this was a piece of non fictionalised archaeo facto-tainment.

I turned the TV off and went to bed.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

No decorum in the forum: 2


I still don't speak Latin (but then, to be fair, it's only been a few months since my last confession), and now everyone seems to be speaking it, or at least talking about it, or at least taking about two people in particular who were caught out by their use (or misuse) of a few words of it.

Government Chief Whip and Conservative Party MP Andrew Mitchell last week gave a virtuoso performance of how not to use Latin when he allegedly berated members of the Metropolitan Police who had stopped him from cycling through a ‘please don’t cycle through this’ security gate (rather than walking through a side entrance like a normal human being). Mitchell (who does not appear to be a normal human being) was understandably aggrieved (probably at those who thought he was a normal human being) and proceeded to download a few choice expressions. The Sun (not always the most reliable of British newspapers) reported Mitchell as saying: "Best you learn your [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] place. You don't run this [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] government. You're [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] plebs."


Funny thing is, it wasn't the choice use of Anglo Saxon expletives that upset everyone, nor, apparently, the vitriolic attack upon the group of public servants just doing their duty, no: it was the use of the word 'pleb', the shortened version of the Latin term 'plebeian' that is generally applied to the unwashed mass of normality in the Roman world. 

I've got no real concerns about a Tory MP calling anyone who isn't a Tory MP a ‘pleb’, in fact I rather like the idea of being thought of as plebeian and it would be a mark of honour to be called one by a self-important, puffed-up, port-swilling, patrician, bum-faced, public school Conservative baboon. No, what I object to is the unadulterated string of Anglo Saxon expletives that  one such self-important, puffed-up, port-swilling, patrician, bum-faced, public school Conservative baboon hurled with unjustified vitriol at members of the police who were manning the aforesaid security gate. No one seemed all that bothered about these particular words and that particularly bothers me. Mitchell claims that the Anglo Saxon expletives were not expressly directed at the police, no, he was merely expressing his frustration in more general terms at the world around him.

Quite right.

In fact whenever I get frustrated at work, say by the photocopier that seems to possess the singular inability to photocopy anything onto A4 without first chewing the paper up and then spitting it contemptuously at my feet, or perhaps the drinks machine that can't seem to serve you a cup of tea without first liberally dusting it with dried tomato soup, I can often be seen (and heard) remonstrating with it in the following terms "Best you learn your [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] place. You don't run this [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] University. You're a [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] piece of [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] inanimate machinery."

It doesn't help...it never does.

With immaculate timing, the UK Prime Minister managed his own Latin clanger when he dropped in on US television's The Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman, bizarrely, took the opportunity to quiz the PM on British history, which wasn't strictly fair, given that the British do have about 2,000 years more history than the US, but I have to say it was very entertaining (and simultaneously stomach-churningly gruelling) to watch.

The quiz included Mr Letterman asking Mr Cameron what 'Magna Carta' meant, to which Mr Cameron did his best to appear perplexed. Looking at the interview again, I'm not sure whether Letterman was asking what Magna Carta meant in the greater sense of democracy and the development of civil rights OR if whether he was simply asking 'what it is the literal translation', but David Cameron huffed and puffed and admitted that he simply didn't know. Now I wasn't educated at Eton (can you tell?) and neither am I running the country, but I think that even I could have a stab at answering 'er..does it mean Great Charter David?' (or even 'Big Charter' would have done).


Boris Johnson the jabberingly inbred lozenge-shaped gibbon / Major of London (delete as applicable) later commented that Mr Cameron had undoubtedly faked ignorance in order to make himself appear "more down to earth". Yeah, I do that a lot now you come to mention it, feigning ignorance on geography, football, physics, chemistry, football (again), biology, popular culture, cricket and football to the point that I must appear to be the most solidly down to earth of blokes. "It was a brilliant move" the toffee-nosed blond-moppet / potential next prime minister (delete as applicable) added "in order to show that he didn't have Latin bursting out of every orifice."

Every orifice….? All eleven of them?

Perhaps, if Latin is indeed an ancient orifice-busting language, then it really is something that is best avoided.

Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui



Monday, 17 September 2012

Fake Jugs

On observing the headline "Vladimir Putin's Fake Jugs", I successfully managed to spit tea all over my computer console..

...really? His jugs are fake.....?

I know that during the relentlessly macho (and wonderfully hilarious) series of 2011 pre election photo opportunities (Putin naked from the waist up whilst fishing / naked from the waist up whilst riding a horse / naked from the waist up whilst wrestling a bear / naked from the waist up whilst wrestling another man naked from the waist up etc) the Russian dictator (sorry, democratically elected president) proudly carried an impressively eye wateringly clean-shaven pair of man boobs...but could they really be fake?  - and what, in all seriousness, would be the point of that? Do moobs win votes? It's been a while since I was last in Russia, but I wasn't sure that the electorate's tastes had changed all that much. Was Putin deliberately displaying his maternal side in order to win votes? Was he carrying his packed lunch in them? Were they especially designed secret weapons created by the fiendishly clever Russian equivalent of Q-Branch (and perhaps housing Putin's own special variety of interballistic missile)?

The mind boggled.

Then it dawned on me. The 'Fake Jugs' were not in fact those belonging to the president (thankfully), but the two artefacts allegedly recovered by him from the bottom of the Black Sea during his brief foray into marine archaeology last August.

The heroic leader, unfortunately clad in wet suit (I’m sure he could have been naked from the waist up if he’d really tried) emerged from the water, (Greek) jugs in hand, to wave them (his Greek jugs) to a wildly appreciative audience. The jugs ‘had been waiting for him since the 6th century AD at a depth of two metres’ gushed one State-owned paper in awe of their leader's new found archaeo-prowess.



I remember thinking at the time that it was odd that the jugs - let’s call them urns shall we – were rather too ‘clean’ and ‘unarchaeological’, whilst all the archaeologists in the background of the photo shoot, instead of grinning like they had just won the lottery, all looked a tad shifty, as if they’d just buried all their scruples in a great big box and politely nudged them down a mine shaft, but hey, I guess everyone needs a bit of publicity now and then. Putin waves his jugs (and adds another tick to his list of heroic activities, which include killing a fierce tiger (and saving the lives of a TV crew who just happened to be there), riding a wet horse through wet water and leading some lost Siberian cranes to safety whilst piloting a deltaplane), some archaeology is saved, Sochi, the nearby Black Sea resort hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, gets a plug and eco-friendly tourism gets mentioned….job done.

Except, of course, it isn’t…the jugs (sorry urns) were planted, it would appear, for Vlad to find. What a shock - really - well, at least for all those who know nothing about archaeology anyway (and at least the planting of archaeological finds for a photo-opprtunity is only ‘mildly unethical’, the killing of a pre-tranquilised tiger for the purpose of gaining TV coverage is something else entirely).

If one puts the complete abandonment of archaeological ethics to one side (and that's a big IF), we are left with the curious thought that archaeological fieldwork was top of Vladimir Putin’s list of ‘Things to be seen doing’ in his pre election campaign. Perhaps this was because, in his own world of horse riding, fish wrestling and moob shaving, archaeology is a gloriously heroic, Indiana Jones style, gung-ho, rip-roaring, tomb-raiding type of adventure of the sort guarateed to improve one’s standing, win votes and show-off on TV. Alternatively, perhaps, Vladimir is really a caring, sharing, eco-friendly archaeo-activist with a deep and abiding love of salvaging the remains of lost civilisations....

....er.....

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Digging Deep

Back in June I suggested that the reason why domestic, European and world economies are in such catastrophic meltdown is because there are no archaeologists in charge – something that, in my own modest opinion, becomes clear every time a politician (of whatever nation or party) comments, in relation to the Euro-crisis, that "when you're in a hole you have to stop digging". This is muddle-headed thinking of the worst kind for, as any decent Bone Kicker knows, the opposite is in fact true: when you’re in a hole you have to keep digging (in fact I would advise not just maintaining a constant, steady and utterly unstoppable rate of soil removal, but also the starting of a whole new series of holes just in case).

Keep digging and never stop, that’s my advice.

Anyway, after watching both the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics (30 days of compulsive TV heaven) I fear that I may now have to amend my view on the ownership of arcane archaeo knowledge, for it would appear that it is not just seekers of the past that appreciate the need for a strategy of continuous excavation: athletes do too.

Witness quadruple gold winning Paralympian David Weir who, after winning his third gold at the London games, observed that he “had to dig deep” during the T54 800m. Later on, following the successful completion of the T54 marathon, he commented that it had been “the deepest I’ve ever had to dig and it was well worth the result in the end”. Earlier, in the C4-5 Road Race, cyclist Sarah Storey noted that she had been buoyed on by GB supporters around the course urging her to “dig in, dig in” whilst David Smith, Silver medalist in BC1 Boccia, said that he was going to have to “dig deeper” in order to impress his girlfriend. Add to that the many digging analogies provided by both commemntators and atheletes in the preceeding Olympics (including Gold medalist Andy Murray who, in an early stage of the Men’s Single Tennis Tournament, observed that he had repetedly tried to dig his way out of trouble) and it will become clear that it is not just archaeologists that understand the archaeo-analogies.

If UK politicians wish to emulate the success of both Team GB and Paralympic GB (and it would seem that they most certainly do), it is clear that they must jettison all ‘stop digging’ rhetoric and adopt a more lenient view towards soil removal.

There really hasn’t been a better time to dig deep, then dig a little bit deeper, then dig a bit more. Slowing down, stopping or even having a tea break is not an option.

Now, where's my spade.....?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Olympicoholism

I have a confession…..it’s a biggie I’m afraid….I am, and have for 40 years, been an Olympicoholic.

Ever since the Munich games of 1972 I’ve been hooked. Can’t get enough of it. Haven’t missed a Games since then. Can’t help myself.

The Commonwealth Games, World Athletic Games, European Athletics all plug a gap in the four barren years between games, but it’s only the Olympics itself that can truly satisfy the need.

The Olympics are something special for it’s not just Track and Field that works so well in the 16 days every 4 years, but also swimming, cycling, diving, archery, in fact pretty much every sport at the Olympics becomes utterly, totally, compellingly addictive. …all except the football that is.

Never liked football, not even at School. I guess part of the reason was that, during the dark days of school, it was track and field (and mostly track) that was the only sport that I ever really got the hang of. Running fast is something that, as a sport, makes perfect sense: no silly rules, skills or time limits; just belting as quickly as possible to the line. I loved running, especially the 100 and 200 metres. I was, truth be told, never going to be an Olympic contender, though I did (briefly) compete for my school, town and county back in the day. Up until the age of 15 running was (almost) everything, until, that is, archaeology got in the way (and I discovered that you could have as much, if not more, fun all year round without the need for endless training). 

As the years have gone on, my interest in running / jumping / throwing sports has remained, whilst interest in football has deteriorated even further. I don’t know why footie is still proclaimed as the National sport and, bizarrely, the ‘Beautiful Game’. In the cold, hard light of day, there’s nothing beautiful at all about football. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be in a city centre (or on a train / bus, any form of public transport) when there’s a football match on, you’ll know what I mean: hoards of shaven-headed, chanting, drinking, fighting, brawling thugs smashing their way through shopping arcades towards their own personalised form of Valhalla.

You never get this with Athletics. 

A crowd watching track and field events cheer and celebrate, but they applaud performance, irrespective of nationality; they congratulate sportsmanship and achievement, they do not (and never have in my experience) berate competitors for their skills, nationality, appearance or skin colour. I’ve never heard athletics (or cycling or swimming or gymnastics or archery or any other Olympic-related sport, other than football of course) yelling abuse, booing, racially abusing, questioning the sexual orientation of sporting competitors of other nationalities. Do British Athletics fans boo American long jumpers, Jamaican sprinters, Russian pole volters? No.

Same really goes for football players themselves, as all the recent furore in the British press confirms. The ‘industrial language’, aggression and casual violence that occurs on the football pitch seems to be perfectly ‘acceptable’, at least in a court of law; a common and natural aspect of the sport. Well, it shouldn’t be. Are football players (and why is it just ‘football’ when it’s clear that we’re talking about the male game…why is there ‘Football’ and ‘Women’s Football'? Why the distinction? That implies that ‘Women’s Football' is somehow different, less important…surely, to be fair, it should be the ‘Men’s World Cup’ or ‘Men’s Euro 2012’ etc so that the female game isn’t somehow considered in anyway second rate….anyway, I digress) really that special? 11 overpaid, racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobes spending 90 minutes trying (and, more often than not failing) to kick a ball into a net and cheered on by thousands of violent ultra-nationalists? Is this really something to celebrate? Is this really the ‘beautiful game’? 

I’m digressing again…

I didn’t manage to get any tickets for the London 2012 Olympics though, in order to see the games close up (though that’s probably good news for my bank manager as I did apply for over £4,700 worth of tickets….even saying that makes me come out in a cold sweat) but I will have a grandstand view thanks to the BBC. Only trouble is, now that the games are in the UK, there will be full coverage from 6am to 9pm every day for over two weeks…….then, of course, the Paralympics follows straight after……

……it’s going to be a long month…

Last week I witnessed the Olympic flame as it dashed past my house (ok, near my house) as part of the relay and suddenly I was a five year old boy again. The Olympics will be here in less than a week and I will be utterly transfixed. Forget about football and all of its violent, racist, nationalist associations, and focus on real sporting achievement. As one commentator said as the torch was carried past, “it’s better to carry the torch than a sword”. Yes indeed and they could well have added “it’s better to hurl a discus than racial abuse; it’s better to kick to the finish line than kick a police line; it’s better to run 100m than run for cover”.

Didn’t manage to get any tickets of though, did I mention that?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Archaeo-analogies


There is an obvious reason as to why Europe is currently experiencing economic meltdown: there are no archaeologists in charge.

Not one.

From Greece to Ireland, Portugal to Finland there is a total absence of circuit digging experience: an archaeo-political deficit if you will. Not one European leader has ever got their knees muddy scrabbling around for Neolithic pottery nor had the joy of finding their ears full of 2,000 year-old wind-blown soil. 

'Why is this important?' I hear you all scream (well, in my imagination you are). Well, I'm glad you asked.

Both the UK Prime Minister and the German Chancellor, when discussing the economic crisis, the meltdown of the Euro and the necessity (from their point of view) of maintaining and further enforcing severe austerity measures, were quoted as saying: "when you're in a hole you have to stop digging".

No.

Absolutely, totally and emphatically no.

When you're in a hole you keep digging. You dig until you get to the geological natural, and then you dig some more elsewhere. You keep digging until your hands are raw and your mattock and shovel are worn down to stumps. You dig in the rain, sun, sleet, hail, snow and never stop. You dig as the bulldozers and mechanical diggers are revving up behind you and the site foreman is politely asking you to please finish examining the mosaic floor as he would very much like to smash it into oblivion. You dig and dig and dig and you never ever stop. Stopping is not an option. 

That's why Europe is in a mess.....it needs better economic, social and political analogies. It needs, at the very least, an official metaphor checker with some experience of working in archaeology.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

What does Europe mean to you: 4


It's been decided.

Forget who won (or indeed who lost - though that seems rather difficult for the British Press who are in the middle of their annual whinge against the rest of Europe), no the important thing is who won the prestigious title of Official Eurovision Site Song for the BU Durotriges Big Dig 2012.

It was a tough call, but here are the results (in reverse order)

6)  Albania - an exquisite slice of screaming from the rope-haired Rona Nishliu and Suus This really doesn't grow on you (and if it did you'd try and cut it off). Wonderful.



5) Austria (who should have won purely for their name - Trakshittaz), and their infuriatingly catchy Woki mit deim Popo, a cheery ditty concerning two middle class white Austrian boys and their new found interest in ladies bottoms....it didn't get past the Semi Finals, but an epic slice of Eurovision nonetheless.



4) Israel - Izabo with Time - wonderfully inane and beautifully insane. Didn't get into the final either, being knocked out in the semi finals...



3) Russia - well, what can I say that no one has already? Six Grandmothers (one of whom - the ringer I presume - was only in her 40s) singing and gyrating to a bread oven. Nothing in the world can prepare you for this...



2) Turkey - could anything beat the man-ship / cape-boat Can Bonomo from the Bosporus? The lyrics alone ("My ship is full of hope / searching for your bay") were enough to snatch victory, even without the cape-wearing sailors (do sailors normally wear capes?).



BUT....well you guessed it. I would perhaps cry 'fix' if I wasn't so scrupulous in ensuring that no song had a pre show hearing and no money changed hands (sadly):

1) Moldova - Pasha Parfeny and Lautar - the outright winner (I'm just a sucker for those Moldovan trumpets I guess). "You haven't seen before how looks the trumpet", well no, Pasha, the total absence of a polished brass instrument on stage during your performance of this upbeat ditty means that, for most of Europe, we are still waiting to see 'how looks the trumpet', but whatever the case, it certainly seems popular with the ladies.


So the peasant-evicting, state-torturing, oil-burning, media-gagging, skull-crushing, assassination-approving government in Azerbaijan was not toppled, but at least everyone now knows where it is (....hey, it's a start). Perhaps least surprising of all was the position of the UK entry (second to last). Apparently, according to the British media, this was due to it going first in the four hour long show (conveniently forgetting the contibution of the song, the lyrics, the singer and the fact that it was, after all, the UK). 

No matter – congratulations Pasha, despite your showing in the final (a respectable 11th place), you are our official mascot-theme for DBD 2012.

Now, let the digging commence....

Monday, 21 May 2012

No decorum in the forum


I don't speak Latin.

I felt I had to clarify that point before I proceeded any further. Sure, as an archaeologist I can translate the odd Roman inscription (but it's all fairly formulaic stuff and very different from having a conversation with a dead Roman - if that were in anyway possible). In fact, to be honest, I don't really speak any other language (alive or dead) all that well. Ok I have a passing acquaintance with German, and I can order drinks in Russian, French and Italian (and at a push Spanish and Greek) and, some could (plausibly) argue that, in any case, my English isn't all that great (thanks for that Comprehensive school education), but I digress....

..the reason I mentioned my failings in ancient languages is that, although I only know a bit of Latin, I feel (unnaturally) angry whenever I hear 'borrowed' (stolen / hijacked) words being mangled (mashed / squished) into English (worse when those actually doing the mangling are from the political / banking / teaching elite - the sporting world does it as well, to be fair, but then my expectations here are never very high in the first place).

Today, for example, I've heard individuals discussing, on both radio and TV, the various consortiums vying for access to the Olympic stadiums once 2012 has come to an end. Apparently internet forums are rife with speculation. Am I the only one shouting 'Stadia', 'Consortia', 'Fora' at the radio like a man with an ancient and rather grammar-based form of tourettes (or worse like someone who is six olives short of a dinner party)? 

I know this is not Latin "as she was spoke", but I feel suitably disturbed enough to write an open letter to those in authority:

"Dear British Olympic Committee. 

Having heard the discussions this morning concerning which consortiums are planning to buy the various Olympic stadiums, I must add to the debate currently raging like bacteriums across all the internet forums and say that I hope the gymnasiums do not get recycled as aquariums, crematoriums or souvenir selling emporiums (otherwise I shall come down to the Olympic auditoriums and bash together all your craniums), for these should all stay as stadiums and gymnasiums for at least the next few millenniums".

Now excuse me, I feel I need a lie down.