I came late to Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Channel 4’s attempt to build a Roman villa using only authentic Roman methods seems to offer all the entertainment value of Grand Designs, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Time Team rolled into one.
Last night’s episode was in some ways less about the villa than about the total collapse and reconstruction of the team’s morale. I had missed the moment where the archaeologist banned the use of wheelbarrows (‘no evidence for Roman use’), but Channel 4 replayed it so we could see how the builders manfully refrained from punching the archaeologist on the nose.
This week the team of six were still lugging everything around the site in buckets as the summer days grew hotter. The plasterer went down with sunstroke. The carpenter and the plumber argued as they failed to build the sort of Roman-style cart that would have solved their transport problem. The archaeologist told them to work faster. Cries of ‘Give them some more slaves!’ and ‘What about a donkey?’ were heard from the Downie sofa. Futile, of course.
Just as the team seemed to be reaching breaking-point, the archaeologist had a bright idea that could be summed up in a phrase familiar to every writer: show, don’t tell. So off they all went to Ephesus.
Amongst the sunlit ruins, a transformation took place. We saw the quality of Roman construction through the eyes of modern builders, who could appreciate both the skills and the time that must have been required. The archaeologist no longer looked like an harassed slave-driver, but a man delighted to share his vision. There was a magical moment when their host poured water over a mosaic and it sprang to life in all its original colours. There were several less than magical moments on the massage couches as the team ‘enjoyed’ the full bath-house experience.
Back in Wroxeter, fortune smiled upon the newly-enthused and massaged builders. The authentic Roman cart was finally made to work, then banned on Health and Safety grounds, so wheelbarrows were permitted after all. Several slaves turned up in the shape of (mostly female) volunteers. And wonder of wonders, there was a donkey.
Next week, we’ll see them lifting massive timber frames into place without the use of modern equipment. What could possibly go wrong?
Congratulations and good wishes to the folks trying to save Stony Stratford Library in Milton Keynes. This Saturday they descended upon the library and withdrew every single book in protest at closure plans.
You can see what they got up to here. It’s a simple and effective protest that has gained them huge amounts of publicity – I picked up the link from Twitter, where’s it’s being circulated by Margaret Atwood. (Yes, THE Margaret Atwood.)
The good folk at Bloomsbury USA have gone positively wild celebrating the release of ‘Caveat Emptor.’ They’ve now made the second Ruso adventure, ‘Terra Incognita’, briefly available in e-book form in North America for a mere 99 cents. Sorry I don’t have the links but I’m assuming it’s the same sources as before – Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Google.
Here’s a link to a map of public libraries in the UK that are now under threat of closure as a result of funding cuts. There are rumours of closures that aren’t listed, so things may be even worse than they look.
I’m not aiming to start a political debate here. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been better said elsewhere. I just think the potential scale of our – of everyone’s – loss should be both marked and mourned.
To celebrate the publication of Caveat Emptor, the nice people at Bloomsbury USA are giving away a free e-book of ‘Medicus’ – for the next few days only.
As it’s the American edition, I’m in the bizarre position of not being able to download my own book – tho’ since umpteen versions of it are splattered all over the computer here, that’s hardly a problem. But if you live in the USA (and for all I know it may be available in other countries too), try one of these links to grab it while you can:
for Google e-books
UPDATE – thanks to Gene for pointing out that Canadian readers can find it here:
When I first joined a reading group, I was very impressed by one of our members who knew how to track down discussion questions on the Internet. She would print them out for the rest of us to ponder while we relaxed in comfy chairs and consumed whatever goodies our host had been kind enough to provide. A few years later, there are whole groups who use the net to ‘meet’ (while presumably supplying their own chairs and biscuits).
There’s also plenty of useful material on the net to support people who still prefer to discuss their books in person. I’ve just been enjoying a visit to Reading Group Choices as one of their ‘Authors on the Bookcase‘. The welcome was warm and their pages are full of good things although sadly, as this was a virtual visit, the contents of their biscuit-tin remain a mystery to me.
and welcome to 2011. However, for those of us who felt we never quite caught up before last year rushed past us, here’s a link to Win Scutt’s addictively clickable Google Map of World Archaeology News for 2010.
For the sake of completeness, here’s a link to the 2011 map. Currently empty, but full of potential.