Category Archives: tents

Suffering in Belgium

What? What do you want from me?

What?? What do you want from me?

I’m currently in the thrilling metropolis of Brussels but instead of doing what comes naturally – eating chocolate and waffles and drinking beer out of silly little glasses – I’m doing my familial duty. My brother, in collaboration with his wife I believe, succeeded in producing a second baby in the autumn which I’ve so far managed to avoid meeting through constraints of time, poverty and enthusiasm about children. I find that identifying conversational topics of mutual interest is a challenge with the under-threes; I’m not really comfortable with kids until they’re about, say, twenty-eight or twenty-nine.

Things got off to an unpromising start. I spent a night in London on the way down, where I went drinking with the department of Egypt and Sudan from the British Museum which is always a recipe for messy endings. I then watched a woman in the uniform of the Household Cavalry sing the theme to Skyfall to her horse (later I was unsure if this really happened, but have since been assured that it did), saw the queen, ate a kebab and slept (for about forty minutes) on a friend’s floor before getting the 6:50am Eurostar. I tried to use the journey to catch up on some sleep but only succeeded in waking up miserable and hungover in three different countries in the same morning.

Retreat beating on Horseguard's Parade; so much better on four pints, I wonder if that's how the queen manages

Retreat beating on Horseguard’s Parade; so much better on four pints, I wonder if that’s how the queen copes?

Against expectations, my brother has generated two children who look and behave almost precisely like all other human children, although like almost all other human parents he can’t be convinced they don’t possess special traits and abilities worthy of constant comment. I’ve spent most of the weekend trying to change the subject and not to use too many swear words. I was unsuccessful in both these efforts, my only achievement being to give myself a headache by gritting my teeth for three days.

I brought a miniature tent from Cairo. If only it could be properly sound-proofed. And locked.

I brought a miniature tent from Cairo. If only it could be properly sound-proofed. And locked.

Back in the land of archaeology, my summer digging plans in Turkey are becoming increasingly jeopardised by all the protests. Demanding basic political rights is all very well but no one thinks of the foreign freelance archaeologists whose livelihoods are threatened as a result. The Egyptian revolution left me stuck for two weeks freezing my arse off in a one-star Cairo hotel ordering in from Subway, running out of DVDs and watching the tanks go round and round and who needs that again? Fortunately I’ve been offered eight weeks work digging a big hole in the middle of London instead if Turkey gets silly, which has the advantages of better access to sushi, pubs and West End theatre than is available in Turkish Kurdistan.

Tents for our circus

Roll up! Roll up! Some of our workmen were concerned the Iranians might see this as mobilisation and send air strikes

Roll up, roll up! Some of our workmen were concerned the Iranians might see this as mobilisation and send air strikes

It’s a fine thing to relax in the shade on a hot sunny day, and not such a fine thing when a rainy squall dumps forty kilos of wet canvas on your head. It should have been obvious to all that acquiring three hundred square metres of sun shades for the site would make the weather hate us, but some of us here are on a steep learning curve. Of course, such an acreage of canvas can pack a hefty punch; my time at sea has taught me that one of our trench shades would be sufficient to get a two-to-three hundred tonne ship underway against a moderate swell, but sadly, among other things, the director is no seaman.

Indeed, it was only yesterday I had a close call with the trench C shade. I wasn’t giving the situation my full attention, as I was on the phone to the co-director about how dangerous I thought the shades might be in wind, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the shade pole falling towards my head. I took a rapid step backwards as it fell in front of me, and then an even hastier one forwards to avoid the iron stake being propelled across the trench at the height of my vital organs by the corner of the sail. I would like to point out that such occurrences were not anticipated in the forty two page risk assessment (which included the possibility of nuclear war with Iran)

Oven [209] looking like a beetroot salad

Oven [209] looking like a beetroot salad

Murderous tendencies aside, the shades also fail on colour. I like bright things as much as the next five year old, but red and blue striped tents have their disadvantages; firstly in that they compound my constant suspicion that I’ve run away to join the circus, but secondly they cast a sickly light across proceedings that makes all the site photographs look purple.

It is Thursday night, the only night where we can sleep late in the morning so I must away to the fridge and our new stock of alcohol, obtained at great length from the only beer shop (locked garage) in Halabja (which, understandably, has perhaps had enough of poisons). It looked for a while that we’d have to get through the weekend sober. We were down to half a bottle of Iraqi made ‘Sir Henry’s London Dry Gin’ (cost: £2.50 per litre), which I have tested for nerve agents to be on the safe side.

Sir Henry's gin: unconventional warfare

Sir Henry’s gin: unconventional warfare