Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day - 2023

As a holiday Memorial Day has drifted far from its origins.  Originally called Decoration Day it got started shortly after the Civil War and was so named not because of the medals soldiers won....but because this was the day for grieving families to put flowers on the graves of their fallen. 

Now it is generally just thought of as the opening bell of Summer.  Beer n' ATVs.

Within living memory we've had wars that left their mark on every community large and small.  Everyone knew a lad who did not return from Iwo Jima or Normandy.  It would have to be a pretty small town where there were not flowers on a grave for a life lost too soon but in heroic cause.

In 2023....not so much.

From Korea onward we no longer start wars with a declaration of same.  And with no definitive commitment on a national scale we seldom finish them.  It's hard to have a victory parade when a conflict ends in a shaky truce.  It's impossible to do so when it ends in helicopters fleeing just ahead of a triumphant enemy.

In times past when you spoke of The War everyone knew what you meant.  Now we have small collections of men and women in uniform scattered around the world.  I try to follow the news and can point to a half dozen places.  More are doubtless secret but look to the obvious places.  Middle East, Balkans, Africa.  Mostly they are advisors but still decidedly in harm's way.  And for what?  ISIS, Al Queda,  Al-Shabab, the Taliban; these are not enemy armies from hostile nations.  Mostly they are bandits with ideology taking advantage of failed political systems.

I'm not ready to discuss our involvement with Ukraine other than to ask: "What's the end game there?".  We are sending our highest tech weapons, and no doubt the techs to help with it, in hopes of......?  

Were there a conservative in the White House trying to pull this stunt there would be protests in the streets and at a minimum a daily drumbeat of very appropriate questions.

In the days of my young, foolish youth the US military struggled to get qualified people to don the uniforms.  I guess everything old is new again.  The Army is projected to fall 25% short of its recruiting goals.  The Air Force and Navy are squeaking by with theirs, aided by hefty retention bonuses and by relaxing entry requirements to permit heftier recruits.  Oh, and also because those branches of service are felt to offer a good training ground for high tech with a much reduced chance of ending up in a rice paddy with a rifle.  The Marines, God bless 'em, still have enough esprit d' corps to be meeting their targets.

We once said, with some degree of sympathy, that nobody wanted to be the last man to die in a senseless war.  Now with our inept political and military leadership nobody wants to be the first man to die in one either.

None of this detracts from the valor, the honor, the heroism of those that have stepped up in times past and paid the ultimate price.  Indeed, nothing can detract from it.  Let's remember them with respect these men, and a few women, who fought and died for a country and for principals that they believed in.  May we always find those willing to do so in times of need.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Digging at Vindolanda - My Semi Imaginary Friends!

I've been back from Vindolanda for almost two weeks now.  So it's Real World for me.  Or is it?  I've been spending lots of time with my precocious four year old grand daughter.  And her Pretend Friends.  Having Imaginary Friends is common for kids this age.  Perhaps more so in little people whose early years were spent in Covid isolation.  But ye gads 'n kitty kats she has a varied bunch of them.  Carson and the Alissas (she shows up in several different ages) are the most common.  My favorites are Loud Tina, her mother Geena and her baby sister Screama.  They are characterized by being, well, very loud although I can't say that I hear them at all.  I've tried to claim that I also see a rather gothic teen aged sister named Extrema but grand daughter ain't buyin' it.

At my old but not yet senile age I don't actually have Imaginary Friends as such, but my digging friends are sort of the same thing.  Fascinating people who only materialize in corporeal form for a couple of weeks a year.  Here's some photos.  No explanations.  In some cases I don't have one.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Mr. Whippy

It was a hotter than expected day and the little four mile stroll we had set out on somehow morphed into an eight mile trudge.  So it was with considerable delight that our little band came across, of all things, an Ice Cream truck in a little village we were passing through.  Welcome to the world of Mr. Whippy, a British institution.

Mr. Whippy is an international story.  Apparently a Brit of Italian ancestory discovered Mr. Softee ice cream trucks in the US.  Unsuccessful in getting franchise rights he just started his own brand in the UK in 1958.  Mr. Whippy later spread throughout the Anglosphere with Australia and New Zealand seeming to be especially successful ventures.  

The people I dig with in May are mostly British and mostly my vintage so for them the gentle song of the Mr. Whippy truck and the sticky sweet taste of the soft serve cones are fond childhood memories.  The darn stuff btw invariably sticks to your upper lip!

Alas, after a bit of a post Covid boom Mr. Whippy is in trouble.  The costs of both food and especially fuel are rising in the UK and ice cream trucks are a vanishing breed.  I'm glad I caught up with one while I could.

Sometimes I put up a post with the expectation that people will want to do more research.  In this instance I must in good conscience advise against googling "Mr. Whippy".  But there are so many questions.  For instance is the facebook page of an Ethiopian Mr. Whippy genuine or an elaborate joke?  And how do they get away with these strange Disney character images?  They have pupils in various states of dilation and constriction that make it look as if they are all on drugs.

Farewell Mr. Whippy.  There might be hope for diesel cost per liter coming down but those Disney lawyers will eventually hunt you down and destroy you.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Signs of the Times - England 2023

Things seen in Northern England, Spring 2023.

At the grocery store.  Just Lard, no apologies.  I like the halo which with the lighting from above makes a nice image.

What is Fly Tipping?  A tip is a dump in the UK so I guess this means no dumping trash and running away?  This is a used clothes drop off.

Large White Baps.  The primary meaning is some sort of bread roll or bun.  But my UK friends smile a bit when I use the word as it can also be a slangy term for breasts. 

Only at an archaeology site would you find a container labeled like this!  The site museum  actually has quite a few cattle skulls as they frequently come up during excavations.  Some are full of holes after being used for target practice.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Lambsies, Cute, Weird and Less Cute

May in northern England is a great time to see cute lambs.  These two are giving me skunk eyes as we were walking to a nearby pub that had lamb on the menu.

Not mutant lambs.  I did a double take walking to the site one morning.  Baby alpacas!

It's never a good day unless you learn something.  Even if it is something a bit gross.

Sheep scab.  Sounds icky.  It's actually the sheep version of scabies!  Man, if you get that itchy crud and have a full coat of wool it won't be fun.  Fortunately it can't spread to humans.  That boot image had me worried.  I do walk through quite a few pastures when over there....

Monday, May 15, 2023

Vindolanda 2023 - A few more Finds

Just as the last day of excavations was directed towards tidying up the trenches, so also will the first day(s) of post ex be about tidying up photographic left overs.

Lots of bone comes up from the deeper layers and in near perfect preservation.  There is an expert that analyzes these remains and ponders the Roman diet in ancient times.  I think this one is goat.  Sheep and pigs have surprisingly large and frightening teeth.

The rule on site is that metal artifacts of note - meaning not nails and such - can't be freely shared.  Dark of night metal detectorists have not been a big problem in recent times but if you started showing off gold bling some deluded souls might try slipping around in dark trenches and trying to sort out the hundreds of thousands of nails and rusty stones.  They'd find nothing while making a huge mess of things.  But once the organization running the show puts something up on Social Media it is fair game as long as you don't say exactly what and where it was, nor speculate beyond the basic.  So here ya go...

This is "in situ".  Here's a slightly cleaned up view of one part of it.

Fun.  And as is so often the case it was unearthed by a Vindolanda First Timer.  I showed her a few basics in Week One of the session and she went on to find far more interesting stuff than I in Week Two.  And that's actually fine.

Here's an item not found this year but still has a connection.  My friend Kate dug this up years ago.  It was a surprise find as it was right near the surface clinging to the roots of the turf.  Probably it had been tossed about by Romans, Saxons, modern day plows, rabbits, etc.  It is part of a bronze Roman calendar.  Quite remarkable really to think of somebody in the Second Century AD marking the days and weeks on the edge of the Empire.  It now has a place of pride in the site museum.

The connection with the 2023 excavation season?  Although not excavating this year Kate did come to our night before Jet Lag Drinks Hour.  I knew that she'd recently had this made into a tattoo, which only makes sense given that her daughter is a professional artiste in this genre.  Knowing that it was discreetly on her arm I did suggest over pints that she show off her new ink, and then enjoyed the expressions of those who were wondering just what she was going to bare in the friendly confines of The Bowes pub! 

As you can see this is from the September part of the calendar.  K = Kalends, the first of the month.  ID = Ides.  Not always the 15th as in the famous Ides of March, it indicated the middle of the month which was the 13th in September. 

Ideally this would have been for the Roman month of November as on line sign up for 2024 excavations is in the early part of that month.  The people who spent their lives in drudge work nearly 2000 years ago would have such a hard time understanding why volunteers from around the world are so fanatically eager to come and dig up their ruined buildings and discarded stuff!