EUrgh: The Referendum Debrief

The votes have been counted, and Britain is on its way out of the European Union. Today is a volatile day, filled with elation for some, and sadness for others. As a 21-year-old university student from Cambridgeshire, I was destined to be firmly in the Remain camp. But that was not the winning side, and I stand here now needing to take in the reality and consider how I go forward into it.

I did not want this. I wished, hoped, and foolishly somewhat expected Britain to vote to stay in the EU. And that was despite my ongoing cynicism towards this country’s electorate. When Cameron first announced the prospect of a referendum were he to gain power in last year’s general election, I was of the view that this was a terrible decision. Not because I was afraid of one result over the other, but because I wasn’t sure that the average voter would be well enough informed on the potential benefits and risks of each option. Frankly, I’m of the belief that these sorts of decisions should be made by the elected leadership of the country, with consultation of experts and intelligent, calm and measured debate. Of course, this is all possible in a nationwide referendum too. How painfully predictable it was that this was not the discourse of the shambolic campaigning and counter-campaigning that unfurled. Both sides had many legitimate arguments, with strong, well-reasoned ideas of what could benefit Britain. Both sides also had flaws, which if admitted to by both could lead to a knowledgeable, informed public knowing their options, and plumping for one side of the debate based on this. However, rather than proceed to run politics in this way, the run up to the vote was peppered with blatantly misconstrued statistics (£350m a week given to the EU?) and wholly unjustified fear-mongering (WW3? ‘Swarms’ of ‘vermin’?). Some people tried to debunk figures, while others tried to re-humanise The Sun’s victims, trying to get the public to view, for example, a Romanian doctor working for the NHS as a human person, trained as a doctor, rather than a job-stealing, benefits-claiming untermensch with a bomb strapped to his chest on a hell-bent mission to strip away England’s culture and replace it with propaganda for Daesh wrapped around a bowl of borsch.

But, regardless of the campaigns and their strategies, we voted to leave. I want now to clarify that I do not think of leave voters as any less British, any less patriotic, or any less sensible than remain voters, as the vast majority will have considered the evidence and come to a decision which they feel is best for the country. However, I fell betrayed by a governmental campaign that felt the need to appeal to xenophobia and fear by portraying the worst of people. People have been misled, and it’s not their fault.

Moving on into a non-EU Britain, there’s a lot to be revealed before panic should begin. There were a number of strong arguments for leaving the EU, and it is now time to allow space and time for these benefits to shine. In the meantime, there will be economic uncertainty, and there will be animosity. I’m gutted that my immigrant friends will have a horrible few years, and I’m very worried about job opportunities in my chosen career. However, all we can do now is get through the mist, into the clear of the other side. We do not know what will happen, and we do not know how other nations will react. Until we do, the only certainty is that we’ve chosen to isolate ourselves. I for one hope we made the correct decision.

Horrible (Future) Histories: The Gory Tories

Right now in Britain we seem to have a myriad of political issues. The big one is, of course, the EU referendum. Much has been written/shouted/detailed in fancy graphics about whether or not we should stay or go and which option is completely definitely going to lead to World War Three (Hint: It’s probably neither). This blog post is not dealing with that referendum. Another big ongoing political scandal is the kerfuffle over the junior doctors’ strike, as human blancmange Jeremy Hunt tries eagerly to work out a deal that will cause hundreds of thousands of overworked doctors to work that little bit more for the good of, err, someone or other. This post is also not really about that.

Rather, this post is going to have a brief look at the proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill that our government wants desperately to push through. In essence, what seems to have happened is that the government’s long-running, not-at-all-disruptive plans to build HS2 have been stalled slightly due to a lack of archaeologists to carry out the necessary surveying and/or excavation work to make sure that people can get to London about 10 minutes earlier without having to permanently destroy thousands of years of Britain’s past. The news broke that there was a shortage of archaeologists, which you know, could be due to the fact that they have low pay and very poor job security. Instead of thinking about all the possible policies that could be implemented to combat this by, for example, giving the sector a bit of extra funding (creating more jobs) or not trying to raise tuition fees yet again and discouraging people from getting qualifications to allow them to become archaeologists (did someone mention jobs?), our beloved Etonian overlords decided to try and push through some legislation that means they don’t need to bother with that troublesome business of protecting heritage or nature or any of the other nuisances that get in the way of hugely expensive propaganda projects.

When the news of a lack of archaeologists broke, some cynical and pessimistic corners of the sector claimed it’d only be a few years before the government tried to just stop archaeology happening at all. Turns out those pessimists were just a tad too optimistic, as it took a bit less time. 3 days. Hmm, really feels like the last resort. But clearly they’re in the right here, as no one cares about old stuff anyway! It’s not like one of the nation’s biggest tourist attractions is filled with archaeological objects. Nope, we’ve filled the British Museum now, we don’t need any more stuff. Or knowledge. Or jobs. Instead we’ll get HS2 slightly earlier, so that all of those out-of-work archaeologists and recent graduates can get to the hub of British commerce a bit quicker. Except for the bit where they have to pay to get on it, that’s less likely to happen.

I really did want to wait until the government responded to the 17,000 signature-strong petition against this bill before writing this, but as there’s no indication as of yet that they’re bothering with it, I thought I’d get cracking. I emplore you to point out to the Tories that some people quite like Britain’s exquisite heritage and don’t particularly want it destroyed without any consideration. The petition can be found here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/130783.

A Dabble in Academia, Apparently.

It’s been nine months since my last post on this blog. Since then babies have been conceived, born and named. It’s a long time, and really not conducive to a lively and well-maintained blog. But here I am again, returning once more to my lonely little blog, and really aiming to reacquaint myself with it.

You may ask why I’m now coming back. It’s a mix of reasons, mostly that it’s exam season, and I’ve got actual work to be doing, so naturally I’m ignoring it in favour of blog-based procrastination. Furthermore I have a legitimate reason (sort of) in that soon I’ll be embarking on a paid placement, one element of which will be blogging. To this end, I thought I should dust off and stretch my blogging arm. To ease myself back in, I’m only going to tackle a nice little round-up/looking ahead post about my recent, future and projected doings.

I’m soon to finish my second year of university, which is going far too quickly for my liking, but has forced me to consider other aspects of life, namely where I’m going to end up post-uni and how I’m going to stumble there. Firstly, I need to do well this year. That’d be a good start. And I know I need to, because for the very first time in my admittedly disorganised life I have a plan for the ‘future’. It’s probably ambitious, but I’m quite enjoying that fact. Many many people appear to go to university for a number of interesting reasons, whether it’s simply because it seems to be the case that one can’t get into a good career without a degree these days. Because of this people will go, and they’ll study something they’re familiar with, or they think will open doors. Maybe they’ll study English because it’s popular and well established but not too science. Perhaps they’ll plump for biology because it’s the most accessible of the hard sciences. Or Computer Science, because we live in the information age and there are well paid jobs available. Lots of reasons. And from what I’ve seen, this can lead to a distinctly miserable experience. People will plod along, doing what they have to in order to continue, all the while complaining how uninteresting or difficult their course is. Now, don’t think I’m opposed to the odd whinge; we Brits do love the occasional moan. However I do feel like, in the face of all this, I’ve rather lucked out.

For some reason, I picked to study archaeology at uni, with virtually no real experience of it at all, past ‘The Savage Stone Age’ Horrible Histories book I’d loved as a youngling. It’s a generally low paid sector, and not blessed with the immediate respect of teaching, the career opportunities of Computing, or the respect of Physics or Chemistry. Yet, I absolutely love it. I find it endlessly fascinating, and I think I’ve even found my favourite period to study.

Front (1)

Alas, poor Dmitri. I knew him well.

I’ve written essays and reports, taken tests and spent hours being utterly perplexed by the teeth and clavicles of a medieval skeleton my lab partner and I named Dmitri. I’ve aggressively breathed on flint, stroked pottery and crawled around the insides of a 5000-year-old burial monument. I’ve even dabbled in philosophy, and had my mind twisted by the thoughts of the more out-there scholars in the field. It’s been a weird couple of years.

Off the back of this unexpected enjoyment, I can’t face the idea of stopping studying it, so I’ve set myself the ambitious aim of getting onto a Masters course at a university even better than my own (which as it happens is really rather good). I’ve got one exam to smash, a paid placement that I can use to alter the working environment of the discipline, and I’m just starting along the path of my dissertation, a piece of research that is not only endlessly fascinating, not only centred around my own home, but is genuinely new research, with the possibility of contributing to the world’s collective knowledge about our own past.

I’ve got a lot to do, and although historically I’ve baulked at any amount of work presented to me, I’m excited to do it, and slightly scared at where it could take me. Now excuse me while I try and convince myself to actually do some if that work. I’ll be back here very soon.

Pewsey: Valed in Mystery

It’s been a long while since I last blogged. But I’ve been uncharacteristically busy as well as characteristically lazy. A combination of the two has really stunted the growth of this blog. Anyway, now that I’m back home with not a whole lot to do, I thought I should probably attempt to write something again. Unfortunately I’ve not come across anything recently that’s made me want to write about it in a slightly sarcastic manner. As such, this will be more of a reflective piece about what’s actually happened in my life in the last couple of months.

This summer I properly began my journey into the world of archaeological fieldwork. Not an unexpected use of my team I suppose, as I am studying for a degree in archaeology. But my university’s field school, at the Vale of Pewsey, will be the main focus of this post. A month in a tent has never been an idea that’s much appealed to me, and I stand by the fact that brick walls were really a rather spiffing idea. But it could’ve turned out to be a lot worse, after all we had real showers. Now, as my first experience of a dig where I was actually taught what to do, it was a lot of fun, as well as being lot of hard work. Starting with a humble post pad, I got a decent run through the world of paperwork, from context sheets to plans with a nice little stop off at the section drawing café. After that came the ditch intersection. Now, I don’t want to bore you with an explanation of that utterly horrible ditch, but I also want you to appreciate and possibly hate it as much as I did. Even though I ended up digging it with someone who would become a good friend, it was not a kind ditch. You see, most of the time in archaeology, if you’re digging a ditch and find some of the natural geology it’ll be the edge of bottom of the ditch. This one however decided that that was a tad too cliché and instead blessed us with 5 layers of redeposited natural to curse at instead. Of course this can be put down to my friend’s ‘curse’ of having everything she touches turn to redeposited natural. Even when I’d definitely found the edge of the ditch, as testified by not one but two experienced supervisors, she tapped it and lo and behold it turned out to be redeposited natural. Apologies for that rambling story, but hopefully you now have some appreciation of how redeposited natural is the worst thing ever. I blame the Romans. What did they ever do for us?

Besides that though the dig was very exciting and important. A very exciting human burial was discovered in one trench (not mine), a range of beautiful Neolithic tools were found (not by me) and a Neolithic building was carefully excavated (not by me, as you may have guessed). But, thanks to my rubbish back preventing me from any actual digging for the last week or so, I got really good at context sheets, and isn’t that what we all dream about anyway?

However a dig is obviously not all about the archaeology, and living in a field with a group of people for a month really does get quite weird. There were some very strange nicknames – Name, Herr Oberst, [5132] and Kev just to name a few – and quite the large amount of drama. Dig parties really can get weird, and sometimes they end with a wise wizard snapping tent poles via intervention from a tall man clearly so jealous of Short Man Syndrome that he wanted a piece of the action. Good for him for smashing those stereotypes though, good on you, you lanky progressive campaigner you. On the other hand I really did meet some properly great people, and I’m glad I did, because without that lot the dig wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. So all in all, some really great archaeology, none of which I got to dig, some brilliantly fun and funny new friends, and drama better than anything the BBC’s ever aired made for a damn good month. Sorry for such a positive post, I’ll try to find more things to poke with a metaphorical stick next time.

Some People Just Aren’t Suited to Politics

I’m going for the position of secretary for the committee of my Ultimate Frisbee team next year. I have to write a manifesto for this. I started out with a blank word document, no idea what I was going to say, and an ill-fated decision to type up every fleeting thought I had. If you’re really bored enough to want to read that junk, here it is. I apologise in advance!

Right. Manifesto time. Right, write, rite – ritual. Is there a way to do this? Some sort of weird paganesque ceremony perhaps? Did George Osborne and David Cameron prance around a bonfire while chanting and thrusting sticks to the air when they were manifestoing? That’s definitely not a word; manifestoing. To manifesto, one can manifest, maybe a Spaniard manifestos? Seems pretty likely.

But time for my one, going for secretary of Ultimate Frisbee. Perhaps less glamourous than prime minister. But then again, I’m damn good at eating bacon sandwiches, take that Ed. I can’t just criticise politicians, I’m gonna have to write something eventually. Why would I be good? Maybe I wouldn’t be good. But I can’t say that, or people won’t vote for me, Clegg got votes with downright lies, maybe they’ll work for me too! Convincing though, I’ll have to be concing. Maybe wine would help. I don’t like wine but Clegg likes a Pinot Grigio. That’s post 2010 election though, things might’ve changed. He probably just drank water at that point, he didn’t have to null himself to all the hate. Good on him for staying off the absinthe thus far though. Not that I know he doesn’t drink absinthe. He could be a world expert in it for all I know. That’d be cool. Wonder if he’s been to the museum in Pontarlier yet. Probably not, bit far from the ski resorts.

Anyway, my manifesto. What are my pros? I’m organised, ish. I get things done in the end at least. That’s good enough really, there’d be no point in deadlines if last minute stuff didn’t work! That’s definitely not a valid point. I can’t claim that I’ll be an improvement on last year’s secretary, cos let’s face it, Jess was pretty good. Apart from the whole wingin’ it/sunburn fiasco of course. Maybe she was just embracing the spirit (ooh Ultimate joke) of the tournament name and adlibbing the whole shebang. Jokes in the manifesto would work. Maybe if every point I make has a Frisbee pun in it no-one will notice that they’re not actually legitimate ideas at all. And if I’m the only candidate then they’ll just have to grin and bear it, haha sucks to be you guys!

So far I don’t seem to have dabbled in manifesto-y language. Bullet points might help, that seems like the best sort of format for this, so here goes:

  • Bullet points or numbers though? That’s always a tough choice

2)    Nope, I’m thinking bullet points looks more professional, if that’s what I’m going for.

>  Arrows though? Arrows are cool

  • Retracted, arrows aren’t that cool.
  • Am organised. (Already said that, but this time with more conviction!)
  • Will get stuff done. (Rehash of first point, need more than that really)
  • Definitely not disorganised (Come on, this is getting silly)
  • Have lots of ideas for the future of the club (many might be secondary ideas that I didn’t actually come up with, but that can remain subtext)
  • Passionate about the sport (that one is true, with all the folly that accompanies it)
  • Wrote manifesto (that shows something)
  • Am standing for the position (better than almost 100% of my rivals for the post)
  • Believe in democracy (will push for elections again next year rather than attempting to establish a Frisbee dynasty of a thousand years)
  • Not a communist (such negative connotations these days, just seems like it could help my cause, especially if someone else opts to grow Marx-style facial hair, which, let’s face it, would sway some voters, myself included)
  • Will spend most of the budget on grapefruit spoons (ah, in-jokes are good)
  • Will not be exclusive (but if you didn’t get the previous joke then you’re out)
  • Will do MVP votes rather than electing one (supports democracy thing as well as being a slight at the previous committee. Ooh controversy)

That’s got to be enough bullet points. Election sealed.

A Bridge to the Neolithic

Long Barow

While procrastinating from doing an essay by going on reddit, I came across this article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers about suicide jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s an interesting article and a good read, but one particular sentence stuck out. When discussing the repeated requests for a suicide barrier to be installed, Gladys Hansen, apparently the city’s unofficial historian, argued that it’s “A monument, a monument to death”. The reason this piqued my interest so is because it’s eerily similar to what my essay’s on – Neolithic burial monuments. In the Neolithic period, people had very different ideas about how the dead should be treated, where they should be placed to rest etc. In that time the most important aspect was post-death. Whether they were concerned with grave goods – what the departed would need in the afterlife, what would most effectively portray them in material possessions etc. – or whether they were worried more about how they would be placed in the grave, or how they would dispose of the body, all the key decisions were about what would happen after they’d joined the choir invisible. In modern times however, a ‘monument to death’ isn’t a long barrow where the person rests indefinitely, but rather it’s from where they chose to end their life.

The Golden Gate Bridge in this context is applicable only to the heartbreakingly common suicides that it enables. Suicide as a death is an equaliser. Tragic in all cases, regardless of the wealth and social status of the person concerned. Perhaps this is why the ‘monument’ is about the death, and not the aftermath. The monuments built to the dead in the Neolithic had no such focus. They were grand structures, used for other purposes (does a bridge have a secondary use?) where their ancestors could be laid and celebrated. There’s a morbid fascination with the suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge, even stretching to a twisted celebration. What can we take from our interest, and how have our attitudes towards death changed from those in the Neolithic, spending 18 million hours on magnificent structures to commemorate?

An Ultimate Experience

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything at all on this here blog. One could probably say that a fair amount has happened since. A few days after my last post I turned 20. Not a huge achievement, but just about significant enough to warrant inclusion. The most significant thing to’ve happened however is almost undoubtedly starting university. Thus far I’ve found university to be both an odd, and an oddly normal, experience. Obviously leaving home and blah blah is a big deal. And then there’s the culture of being a student that I found myself thrown into. Funnily enough, very little changed. I’m still not big on clubbing and the associated activities, and I still prefer to have smaller gatherings with a few friends. In that way, little really changed. There’s some work to do a lot of the time, although, being a first year, I only technically need to do 40% of it (I do try and do a tad more).

As well as the social (read drinking) side of university and the academia that we’re all actually here to get on with, there were a whole host of societies and sports clubs to try out. In terms of non-sporting activities, the CU was really the only one I paid much attention to. Although I also had a look at the possibility of writing articles for the uni’s newspaper. Unfortunately it transpired that the news section of that at least is full of proper articles written by proper journalists who demand a fee for their services taken and re-written by students before being lumped together in the form of a free paper. That didn’t appeal to me massively. So a few days later I went to the sports fair to see what my options were in that area. I disregarded the normal sports in general, I’d never get near the football team, I’m far too small and weak for rugby, and I’m 5’8”, hardly the size for basketball. I knew I was going to attend the taster sessions for 3 sports already, and those were table tennis, squash and korfball. Table tennis because I’ve always been ok at it, it’s fun, and it’s not too energetic. Squash is a fantastic sport that I love, but the taster for that was difficult, being split into groups of varying ability with very little basis for the decisions and having to hit only single sporadic shots made for an unappealing session. Korfball I thought I’d try as my friend had got into it the previous year at his university and had raved about the sport. It was fun actually, and I’d recommend it (look it up, it’s Dutch and really rather fun).

But there was one other sport I knew of vaguely that I thought I’d try, and that’s the one that stuck, the wonderful, if lesser-known, Ultimate Frisbee. I wasn’t expecting to love it really, but my word it’s fun. If you’re not aware of the sport, it’s sort of like an odd mix of football, American football and netball, but played with a Frisbee. I know, weird right. The basic objective is to throw the disc to someone stood in the endzone and have them catch it. Simple stuff. Then there are forces, which is when the defender tries to stop the disc being thrown, and all the many different throws. You might be able to think of one, maybe two. There’s the flat backhand (that’s the one you’re thinking of) and then roll curves, IOs, flick, blades, hammers, scoobers, chicken wings and other similarly ridiculously named throws. Enticed yet? Of course you are. But on the off-chance that you’ve not just bought a disc and formed a club, let me tell you one more thing about it. Puns. Puns everywhere. Never has a professional, IOC-recognised, sport had so many puns. Teams are named with puns. Clubs are, draft leagues are, plays are, even tournaments are. It’s practically inescapable. And why would you want to escape it? There’s more to the sport of course, but I think I’ve said enough to heartily convince even the most stone-hearted amongst you to buy an officially licensed round lump of plastic, gather some friends and blade it at them with the passion of a thousands suns while shouting ‘up!’.

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