I will always reply to comments and always re-reply to re-replies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


My personal circumstances (and the weather) do no permit me to roam abroad at present and I have been mulling over some memories.

On the windowsill lives a plate containing a collection of pottery, stones and bits of road surface – all collected from  places and times – all open up a memory for me.

I won’t bore you with a full inventory but the following will give you some idea. Anyone who has ever read my full profile will know of my interest in archaeology and Roman Britain. This first is the rim of a Roman mortaria, like the complete one at the rear of the picture which follows it.

 Walking in Roman Caerleon one day I looked in a trench where they were renewing gas mains. Underground in such places is always a mass of history. This fragment I plucked from the trench. You can see where the potter’s finger fashioned the rim, ending with the “pinch” which was the spout. My own finger fits this exactly, connecting me to someone who lived nearly 2000 years ago.
Next is a fragment of Roman masonry, covered in melted green glass. I picked this from the ruins of Regulbium, a Roman fort of the “Saxon Shore” on the north Kent coast. It completely symbolises the end of Rome in Britain. Ruin, burning and destruction when the fort was finally sacked.
Roman roads, both extant and lost are a particular fascination for me. In the 1950’s the course of the Roman road through Ashdown Forest was discovered and excavated, wheel ruts still observable.
Being the area of Roman ironworks it was surfaced with the iron slag from the local furnaces - this is a fragment of that road.

Lastly we move forward to the “recent” past. I joined the army in 1956 (since I was not 18 for a further 3 months for a short period I had the “distinction” of being the youngest solder in the British Army). Our days were spent continuously drilling on the parade ground. Pictured here is my platoon marching off from that ground after our passing out parade.
40 years to the day I returned on my motorcycle to the derelict camp – now being built over by an industrial estate.
The parade ground once extended away to the left of the picture and my platoon’s barracks would have been to the right of the motorcycle. I picked up a fragment of the old parade ground. Here it is. With light in the correct direction the indentations of hobnailed boots can still be picked out.



Anonymous said...

...and over here in Australia, a shard of terracotta roman bath house tile. It is incised with lines for drainage( I think). So precious to me, that during the fire season, it resides in our safe.

Thankyou for the memories Pa.
Love from the Daughter x

Avus said...

Daughter dear:
Ah! I picked that from the remains of the floor of the Roman Fort bath house at Vindolanda, one wet afternoon when walking the dog.
As you say, memories.

Pa x

Tom said...

An interesting little collection, with strong personal ties. When I was a young(er) man I spent many a happy day helping with the excavation of a Roman villa near Birdlip, Glos.. Never did find any artefacts, but for me the joy was in the 'uncovering'. From time to time one finds a piece of rock that is captivating, or a piece of driftwood, a shell and so on. Damned difficult to get rid of when the interest passes!

Avus said...

I know Birdlip very well indeed. The Ermine Street Guard Roman re-enactment group (www.erminestreetguard.co.uk) has it's HQ close by at Bentham/Witcombe. I have been a member for 26 years. Did 20 of those wearing armour and displaying, but age and debility means my interest is now continued by being the organisation's Secretary.

Lucy said...

I remember a piece of Roman floor tile in St Albans (Verulamium) museum, a dog paw print and a stone embedded next to it, presumably where someone had tossed the stone at the dog to get it off the drying tiles, a whole little story encapsulated from two thousand years ago.

Another time, my parents had the red roof of our 17th century cottage in Hertfordshire repaired, and the roofers found a ridge tile with the letters EOE and the year 1691 written vertically down it, a very rare visually palindromic year (so the tile read the same whichever way up you held it), such as would not occur again until the year of my birth - 1961 - while they were living in that same house. That was given to the local history society in the town, and once formed part of an exhibition; I wonder if they still have it?

Lucy said...

(though of course 1881 also works, but not with the same numbers!)

Roderick Robinson said...

As you know my memories of military service differ from yours but the phrase "passing-out parade" evokes a small pleasantness. At 6 ft 1½ in. I was taller than l'homme moyen sensuel the RAF expected to welcome to its ranks and I passed almost the whole of square-bashing wearing civvies. These wore out under the strain even though they were covered by what today would be called a "onesie". Drill was a pain since my height meant I was always head of the column and therefore vulnerable to mishearing commands screamed by the drill corporals. However I was regarded as too motley to "pass out" and I was able to watch the others in my billet do it for me.

No need for me to go looking for fragments of the parade ground at RAF Hednesford. Even then (in 1955) coal mining subsidence had turned its surface into a twentieth scale contour model of the Peak District and by now all will be lying just a bit closer to Hell than I imagined myself to be sporting in.

I envy you the knowledge that allows you to provide a historical background to what would otherwise be unconsidered trifles. You could say these bits perform the same function as book spines on book shelves - linking you to an earlier experience, causing a frisson here and there.

Stay warm. Envisage Spring.

Avus said...

I did not realise your distinction - a palindromic birth year! Your middle name isn't "Janus" by any chance?

All that stamping of many boots on a subsiding drill square couldn't have helped. So you were "absent on parade" for your passing out? You would not have got away with that in the army - you lucky bugger.