Friday 27 December 2019

Something for nothing

My sainted mother in law died a week before Christmas four years ago and the family commissioned a memorial mass this year. Then someone in town died and his funeral mass got precedence; and that seems entirely appropriate: the grief, though continuing, does subside with time. We all turned up to church anyway at the appointed time and got an unexpected insight into the life and family of an old chap who'd died in the fullness of his years and much regretted by his children and grandchildren. Apart from loving his family and being generous to the, he devoted almost all his residual energy to reading the Racing Post and then placing bets on Da Nags [R Daidem by a neck!] for the rest of the day. Call me a Protestant with some residual work-ethic but that struck me as completely alien.

I guess I can find some residual respect for all the accumulated effort and knowledge. Much less so for people who buy Lotto tickets and then have a few hours fantasising about what they'll do with their millions until the draw inevitably dashes their hopes. Each week, on average, someone wins the Lotto: but to the nearest whole number it will never be you.  Ah what harm? you may say, it's only €4, twice a week. For my latte-buying readers, that's only a cup of coffee. For the dispossessed - who are demographically much more likely to Lotto up - €8 a week is €400 a year which is a lot of potatoes and/or school dinners for the kids. That math applied to me during my time-rich, cash-poor 2012. In the recession that year I was down to one day a week working. In 2011, we'd often knock off a couple of bottle of cheap plonk a week [it's only a glass with dinner each night] but in belt-tightening 2012 that was a month's pay-check. I stopped drinking and never really got back into the habit. Only recently has it been explained that giving up the gargle has almost certainly improved my sleep.

I'm reading The Black Sea by Neil Acherson [LRB review], which I looted from my mother's house when I was visiting in September. I started it there and brought it away to finish later, in the same week as I started back at work, so have only gotten back into it now. It's a deep history of the region, informed by Acherson's travels through post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s: very erudite - it's a racing certainty that Acherson doesn't read the racing post. But horses feature very strongly: mainly carrying Cossacks, Tatars, Scythians and Sarmatians about the broad steppes of south-central Asia. Horses also appear in many of the archaelogical digs which are the richest sourcce of information about these much travelled and unlettered people.
When a chieftain perished, so did many horses in ritual sacrifice or funeral feasts or both. Interestingly many of the most sumptuous burials, containing battle-axes, spears and archery kit as well as subtle pretty peices of gold and turquoise [L the Kubiatov Кубятов 10 diadem], turn out to be anatomically female. Which helps explain the ancient Greek myths about the Amazons an alien and frightening race of warrior-women.

Acherson makes an attempt to tease apart the difference between looters and archaeologists which essentially comes down to the difference between
  • me, and people like me, who believe there is value in scraping at pot-sherds with a tooth-brush to discover something new about the human journey
  • people like the Man of the Racing Post and the lads sweeping the ground with a metal detector who believe that somewhere out there is a pot of gold which would remain hidden without that they set out on the weekend with the tools of their trade.
Those in the latter camp look at my pals from the Department of Archaeology & Antiquities with annoyance and hostility: Who gave you, with your university degree and your ill-fitting suit, the right to come between us and our heritage?.  In November, four lads were prosecuted and jailed in Worcester for failing to declare a hoard of uncovered Saxon coins which they unearthed after 1,000 years in the cold cold ground.

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