Setting Up Week 27th June to 1st July

Forgive me if I talk a lot about the weather. When you work outside as much as we do, the weather steers your course. It shapes your activities and colours your day. Every decision is preceded by a meteorological observation. And, during Setting Up week we ran the gauntlet of a British summer. Monday is the hottest day of the year. Tuesday is thunderstorms and torrential downpours. Wednesday is the calm and softness of early Spring. Thursday the sun comes back out – but on Thursday we are all working inside  on Staff Training back at the university…and Friday is a leap of sunshine with the promise of a building heatwave. Above all, the decision of what to wear each day on site is not an easy one…and we are nothing if not a stylish site!

This is how Setting Up Week goes….I am at Silchester’s Public car-park at 7.45am to meet my portakabin drivers. We have it down to a fine art now….12 kabins have been ferried here from the Southampton depot, and we negotiate Silchester’s narrow lanes in a convoy of trucks and guide vehicles. Throughout the day Blythe and his team drive up and down to the excavation with our ordered kabins…I sigh with relief as each one is dropped into it’s designated site place……and I tick them off my list: tool store, canteen, Supervisors, IT, Visitors, Science, HQ, Planning, Coffee, Photography, Finds, Food Store…..and then disaster strikes…..they have brought me a kabin which is a size smaller than the one I requested. This IS a disaster! Each kabin is carefully calculated to fit my team and their particular site work….at 20ft it is only 4 ft smaller – but that 4ft is crucial. I am generally a calm person….but this upsets my months of careful planning and calculation. Long ‘phone conversations ensue. I worry that I am turning into an archaeological diva…but it works, I get my way….my 24ft kabin will be mine…but not until Friday. I can live with that.

Our generators arrive – two this year to run computers, water boilers, printers, kettles. The first of our 46 portable toilets arrive – to a sigh of relief from those of us crossing our legs since early morning…Our scaffolders are on site, building our Visitor walkways; our skip and recycling facilities are delivered and lined up for immediate use. Our petrol lockup arrives, with 4 panels of Harris fencing to keep our barbeque secure on Sundays. Jon and Jim begin the minibus dances, and take turns over the next few days to collect a tail lift, a 16-seater minibus – and begin the long task of fetching and carrying all of our equipment from various barns and stores around campus. Heather arrives on site with tea, coffee, chopping boards, biscuits and petty cash. The stuff of life!

Jim connects the water; Dan and Trapper renovate, refurbish and breathe life back into our site solar showers. Nick takes charge of on-site – we remove the black polythene which has done a wonderful job over winter of protecting our fragile archaeology…and the weeding and cleaning begins. When not fetching and carrying, it is all hands on site – Supervisors take charge of their areas, and knees grow dusty brown as trowelling begins. A couple of deep holes have collected water and dead rabbits over the winter, their poor bloated bodies swirling in the mud as we empty the pits and drain them ready for further work. Slowly the site begins to look like an excavation – we beat the weeds, and coax the layers back to their original colours ready for recording, excavation, interpretation.

Tuesday sees the delivery of 2 new cookers…..Jean, our cook, is in seventh heaven. Paul from the university’s Facilities Management Directorate does a sterling job of connecting them……cooking in a portakabin…in a field…..for a 100 plus people has its particular challenges….Andy and Bob from IT Services spend the best of 2 days with us, connecting us to Broadband, refining and beautifying our internet connection. This year we are a true outpost of the University of Reading….we now have a proper ‘phone – a desk ‘phone! – and have an internal university extension. Are we really in a field? Mike comes out from our School of Human and Environmental Sciences and weaves his own particular brand of computer magic – so before long we are logged into our site database, the Integrated Archaeological Database – and all our computers and printers are talking to one another….the noise is deafening. And my relief is palpable. We are connected – we can ‘see’ our Participant Database on our shared drive, and Amanda, my Administrative Assistant can begin to put together the lists and rotas the site relies on and runs on. Back at base, Richard and Paul prepare my equipment for delivery and drive the tow-a-truck out to site, ready for its use as an on site lab by Cindy and her team.

Alan, our wonderful and marvellously patient university lorry driver, makes numerous voyages up and down the droveway with vital pieces of equipment – from desks and furniture discarded from university Hall’s, to calor gas cylinders, to old fancy dress costumes from  end of dig parties from year’s gone by. It is all part of the fabric of setting up a large, long-running excavation project.

All office equipment comes out – we set up Finds, we set up Visitors, we set up Science. Jean comes out, makes us lunch and tries to get to grips with our lunch orders. How many vegans? Vegetarians? Lactose intolerant? Gluten free? She deals with them all, and takes them in her stride. We have a new Catering Assistant – Maisie  – a Reading graduate in Speech Therapy, she is not entirely sure what she has let herself in for – but thought it sounded fun, a challenge! That it certainly is…and we always welcome new faces on site; our digging family just got bigger!

Thursday is our 5th Staff Training Day….a chance to put on our glad rags and spend the day indoors talking about the season’s plans. Our Training Day always coincides with the morning after the last evening of term in the Union….and many of my staff feel obliged to revisit old haunts and put in an appearance. I am now used to the ranks of dark glasses in the back row of the Sorby Room as I present my hopes and plans for the forthcoming season……But, whatever their physical state, it is a chance for me to get all my staff in one place and discuss Silchester’s research objectives in the morning, our teaching objectives in the afternoon. We end the day with the traditional glass of wine, thanks Heather!, before heading bcak to our Hampshire field.

By 4pm on Friday 1st July, Professor Mike Fulford joins me on site…I proudly show him that we work…we really do! A place for everything and everything in its place. It is a good feeling. Nick, Mike and I walk around the archaeology and discuss the season’s objectives. Everything is now ready for Monday 4th July, and the arrival of 100 new recruits. I send everyone home for a last relaxing weekend…we will need all our energise for Sundays night’s arrival of all the camping newcomers…..

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.