Technical Weather

These are dark days for diggers. I mean diggers in the ground, not word diggers like me. Still, when I and the world were younger and I, too, occasionally wielded a trowel instead of a pen, winters were tough. Long after builders and farmers had taken refuge indoors we archaeologists would struggle on, until our fingers were frozen more solid than the hardest shards and our feet were as cold as those of the corpses we unearthed. I have dug during blizzards so fierce I couldn’t see the trench, and in frost so severe that the ice in our water hoses was as hard as the very flints on the mesh of our sieves. Admittedly, that was in Norway in November, where winter is still a mighty King. And this was also before anything like a Health & Safety Department existed in archaeology. Ah, those good old days…….when archaeologists were archaeologists, and death in the trenches was considered an honourable end to a noble career.
Spring was very different. Spring was the season when lambs were born, trees were budding and archaeologists became frisky. Many a colleague would disappear for days on end, long-standing appointments were cancelled with a brief phone call: ‘sorry, technical weather today’. For that is how they were called then, those balmy, sunny days in spring when the fields were freshly ploughed and new crops of delicious finds were poking their lovely little rims out of the dark soil: technical weather. All diggers would be itching to be outside, and all paper-pushers were green with envy. Many a dry and dusty dossier of sites long forgotten suddenly needed urgent checking in the field, without delay and in person. On such days I will still drop my books in a wink and run off for a survey with the very first ex-colleague who asks. But today it is winter and cold, very cold. I think of those dark days in Norway and, purring like a cat beside a cosy stove, turn to my dictionaries. Not technical weather today.