Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ur fry

The wind taking the top off our site tent. This made F happy as we no longer made her go outside to smoke

The wind taking the top off our site tent. This made F happy as we no longer made her go outside to smoke

Just one week into the excavation and we’ve invented a desperate new sport for the afternoons – Zembil Ball. This involves standing on the drive throwing a football into the top of a stack of zembils (rubber buckets made from used car tyres) from increasing distances. By the end of the season perhaps the game will have developed more complexity and become fully codified, or more likely, we’ll get bored of it in a few days and find another pointless way to occupy our teeny tiny minds.

I catch another tiddler. Not much eating on that

I catch another tiddler. Not much eating on that

On site it’s been a week of occasional high winds and disappointingly tiny cuneiform tablets. I’m beginning to feel that the archive room has been overfished and the only remaining stock is below breeding size and I should probably throw them back. We’ll see how things go next week, I still have hope of catching that huge white tablet that took my leg and haunts my dreams (actually, most of my dreams are still about trying to get to an interview on time).

Yesterday we had our blood tests for our residency papers, luckily they’ve dropped the stethoscope exam and the chest x-rays. However it still involved being inexpertly punctured with a needle, being tittered at by girls in lab coats and having to have my photo taken with the blood doctor who, unlike me, looked like he’d never had so much fun in all his life.

antediluvian carrots

antediluvian carrots

It’s Friday which is the cook’s day off. Me and F have been volunteered to cook dinner, which everyone else may or may not live to regret. We’ve decided to do stir fry as we managed to find soy sauce and packets of instant noodles in Nasiriyah yesterday (along with the pure and brilliant gold of three packets of real Lurpak lightly salted butter). We weren’t so lucky at the vegetable shop where we had our pick of a carefully curated historical collection of vegetables dating back to at least Christmas. We bought some sad-looking green peppers, some mysteriously slimy-looking mushrooms and some rubbery purple carrots, which I sincerely hope are the sort that are supposed to be that colour. We got back to the house to find that the cook’s last act of cruelty before going home for the weekend had been to cook the chicken we were going to use for the stir fry (or more accurately, he’d put it in a saucepan of water and lovingly boiled it for about four hours until he was sure it was completely flavourless). We will now be having tinned tuna stir-fry with a possible sprinkling of left-over spam. In deference to the Ur dig house kitchen misery generator we have resolved to call it Ur-fry.

Ur fry. Not nearly as bad as it could have been considering it mostly consists of elderly courgettes and three tins of Iranian tuna

Ur fry. Not nearly as bad as it could have been considering it mostly consists of elderly courgettes and three tins of Iranian tuna

In the end, we did not poison anyone.

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Greater and lesser failures

Apologies for the long winter silence, I won’t make excuses; partly because they’re boring and partly because they’re not very good. At any rate, I’m back in Iraq and back on the blog.

One of the many self satisfied lizards of southern Iraq

One of the many self satisfied lizards of southern Iraq

Getting here has not been easy. The day before I was flying out I had an interview at the British Museum for a temporary curator job, which is more or less the job I’d like above all others. Given this, I’d taken extraordinary measures to make sure I was prepared and on time – I stayed closer to London at my sister’s and booked an earlier train than the one that would get me there in plenty of time. Alas, after 20 minutes my train stopped, stuck behind a broken one ahead, and didn’t move for over an hour. As I watched all hope of getting there on time slowly tick away I reflected on the universe’s certainty that I don’t need a job and wished that I could share it. I finally got there half an hour late after sprinting through the London transport network. They put me straight into the interview, which I don’t recall clearly because I was distracted by my brain screaming AHHHH! AHHHH! AHHHH! AHHHH! over all the interviewer’s questions.

Steel Dragon 47: My own little slice of heaven

Steel Dragon 47: My own little slice of heaven

I got my rejection by email the next morning as I was trying to pack for Iraq and recover from my hangover. It seems that the British Museum prefer their curators to be less late, sweaty and incoherent with rage. I’ve found some solace in engaging in a protracted exchange of sarcastic emails with Chiltern Railways customer services, but it’s a hollow sort of pleasure.

I arrived at Ur on Thursday afternoon and was almost immediately handed a bowl of rice and beans in tomato sauce (rice n red), which elicited a range of powerful emotions. I spent yesterday making myself at home in cell (shipping container) 47, in which the toilet still doesn’t flush. Today was our first day on site. We’ve borrowed an Italian team’s truck as transport, which has come complete with the Italian team’s compilation CD of driving music. Our progress today was to the accompaniment of Pink Floyd’s ‘One more brick in the wall’, ‘We are the Champions’ by Queen and the theme tune to Indiana Jones, which has given us some notion of the inner mental life of an Italian archaeological project.

Many hands making heavy work of the tablet room backfill

Many hands making heavy work of the tablet room backfill

At the site we found thirty men from the local village waiting for us. We’d asked for six. The problem was resolved in a distinctly Iraqi way by deciding that this week twelve men would work and split the wages of six and then swap in with a different twelve next week and so on, meaning that the six wages will be split among twenty-four men, thus making no one very happy but no one very unhappy. Except us that is, as we’re now stuck with far more workmen than we have work for and a weekly problem of going through what we want them to do all over again.

We managed to get all of the back fill out of the tablet room by the end of the day so tomorrow I will begin the lonely hunt.

For the dig house we receive another enigmatically mis-translated poster

For the dig house we receive another enigmatically mis-translated poster