Tag Archives: cats

The storm before the calm

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The dreary view through the office window of the citadel flag

Erbil hosted a major lightning exhibition all last night, with a sort of End of Days wind theme running through it. Personally, I spent the evening watching it all from the garden of the Chaldean Club with a shisha and a few beers while the wind slowly gathered up all the litter in the neighbourhood and deposited in the sheltered corner where L and me were sitting. We were well over ankle deep in napkins and plastic bags by eleven o’clock and surrounded by an accumulation of all the restaurant’s plastic rubbish bins, which were one-per-table at the start of the night. It did dawn on me, in hindsight, that I’d spent three and a half hours in a serious electrical storm smoking from a three foot tall metal pipe, but you live and learn. Or you get struck by lightning and die.

The bit of the citadel which is currently the most likely to kill us all. Now with the added weight of a day and a night of rain water

The bit of the citadel which is currently the most likely to kill us all. Now with the added weight of a day and a night of rain water

Sleep was not all that easy between the lightning, thunder, the banging of the many wind-borne objects and the fiery explosions of electrical things in the street outside. I have a mind to get some thicker curtains. None the less, I arrived on site this morning more or less eager and more or less on time (the good fortune of getting one of those taxi drivers who think nothing of wheel-spin and the odd dead pedestrian), keen to finally start some digging after last week’s endless pointless meetings. Alas, after just forty minutes of joyful section cleaning, during which I tried to demonstrate how to get as dirty as possible in the shortest possible time to my immaculately dressed Kurdish trainee, the rain arrived. I spent almost the whole day in the site office trying to look busy, but mostly trying to get into the Hornblower books, which on first impressions are dreadful. I kept trying to take advantage of the dry spells but every time I went back to the site it started bucketing down after five minutes. As one of my assistants said, ‘The rain, it like you’ before going back to checking facebook on his phone.

Sack-of-shit. Same old cheery disposition. Same smell

Sack-of-shit. Same old cheery disposition. Same smell

Everyone else went home at 2pm and I was left in the company of Sack-of-shit, the malevolent office cat who has disappointingly failed to die in the last ten months. He lay under the cabin for half an hour keeping up his constant angry meow, at which point I decided to drown him, failed, and went home. I was pleased to hear at the weekend that the enormous orange cat (tiger?) who I had a fight with last year on Halloween was run over by an SUV while I was away. I enjoy the satisfaction which is natural at the death of an enemy, but I will still carry the scars to my grave.

As a post script, here is another picture from a now lost Palmyra:

The view down from one of the now destroyed funerary towers, as I check to see if my horse has run off yet

The view down from one of the recently destroyed funerary towers, as I checked to see if my horse had run off yet

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Life below the radar

Being thrown across the bridge was all part of the fun in my day.  The Enterprise seatbelts make me spit diet coke over the woman in front

Being thrown across the bridge was all part of the fun in my day: The new Enterprise seatbelts make me spit diet coke over the woman in front

It’s been nearly a week since I got back from Iraq and I’ve been making the most of my renewed opportunities. Yesterday I watched six hours of television, went to see Star Trek Into Darkness at the cinema, went to the pub where I drank five pints of mild and ate pork scratchings (the good and hairy kind) and had sausages for dinner. All my dreams are realised. Having been paid for the work in Iraq I’ve bought myself a gift of clean shirts and trainers that still have rubber on the bottom. The Inland Revenue sent me a welcome back present of yet another tax code which I’ve added to my collection. One day I will have the full set.

Mum painting fences for the elderly Japanese man next door

Mum painting fences for the elderly Japanese man next door

The Inland Revenue’s problem is part of a general problem with my life, in that I increasingly don’t exist in the UK. I don’t have a job, I don’t sign on, I don’t pay tax, I don’t pay national insurance, I don’t have a house, I don’t have a credit card, I don’t drive, I don’t give blood (anymore, due to travel history), I’m not registered with a doctor, I’m not registered with a dentist and I’m no longer registered to vote as I don’t really live anywhere. I have no debt and no assets. The government might be forgiven for thinking I’m trying to avoid them, or perhaps that I’m living in the woods stockpiling road kill and sharpening sticks for when the revolution comes.

I might not have a job, but I do have work; in fact slightly more than I have time to do. I’ve been asked to write up part of a site in Turkey I work at for the final publication, the only obstacles being that the area was excavated by someone else nearly ten years ago and I can’t read their handwriting. I’m largely relying on hazy memories of seeing the trench when I went over to borrow the excavator’s plumb bob one morning in 2004. I think there was a wall. In a further test of memory, I was contacted on Tuesday by another excavation asking if I remembered where I found a particular scrap of textile in Sudan in 2010. Errm….

me and Tigerlilly own this block

me and Tigerlilly own this block

I’m successfully distracting myself from these unfathomable questions by joining twitter and becoming drawn into the territorial wars of the neighbourhood cats. The big ginger four doors down is taking some shocking liberties with the garden furniture and might be in line for a surprise if I still have the reflexes.

Digging up old stuff in a cold place

Doodoo and Oy (who are gay lovers), discovered in the clean washing

Doodoo and Oy (who are gay lovers), discovered in the clean washing

It’s now gone very cold here and I’m wearing more socks than I can comfortably fit in my shoes. Cold doesn’t last very long in Middle Egypt and the locals seems to act as if surprised and slightly betrayed. Galibiyas are horrible drafty things. This morning I was first into the kitchen for breakfast and found two of the dig house cats sleeping in the clean washing box. The little monsters will do anything to get inside; I keep finding them hiding in the shower, to our mutual surprise. I can hear them scratching at the door from the roof as I write this.

The workmen, in the spirit of Captain Scott, accept their fate and wait for death

The workmen, in the spirit of Captain Scott, accept their fate and wait for the end.

The workmen are just as bad. In the morning they huddle together with a wild look in their eyes as if the world has gone mad and there’s nothing to do but wait for icy death. No one was laughing, however, when it was found that the thermos flasks hadn’t made it to site and we couldn’t make instant noodles. This was especially galling as we’d been down to only chicken flavour for the last week but had been re-supplied that morning with beef. I cried inwardly over my unopened beefy breakfast.

One of our many mysteries was solved today; the disappearance of all the sheets. My Australian colleague J- confessed at dinner that she has finally taken a blanket from the stores as it’s got so cold. We all gaped in astonishment (we all know D- has been under five blankets for the last week and would have taken more if the extra weight wasn’t a risk to life). It seems J- has been unwilling to take her turn in the flea-infestation-blanket-lottery and has instead been adding extra sheets to stave off hypothermia. We find, in fact, that she has fifteen sheets on her bed, not counting the one she sleeps on top of. As A- commented, “sometimes I think I’m a bit strange, and then I go and excavate with people.”

and a further mystery: how did I take this picture of my bony gloves? I now mostly use my laptop for warmth.

and a further mystery: how did I take this picture of my bony gloves? I now mostly use my laptop for warmth.

 

The mystery of dinner is also about to be solved with what appears to be potato pizza.

Beasts

Today's advent donkey

Today’s advent donkey

My Norwegian colleague had an exciting adventure today while endeavouring to go for a quiet piss in the desert. We work in a little valley (or wadi to the purists) and by common consent the men take their lonely walks on the east side while the women have a reed hut on the west side (or a convenient small New Kingdom quarry if one can’t be bothered to walk so far – future excavators here may have a surprise).

My colleague found he had a dog following him, but pressed on, attempting to ignore the dog’s invasive presence and unhelpful manner. Then there were two dogs, then three, and by the time he had reached his usual spot, a considerable number. It seems the local populous had taken exception to a well-groomed Norwegian man coming out every day for three weeks and marking their territory as his own. By the time the Norwegian had undone his flies, he was beginning to think better of his immediate plans and more toward the preservation of his person.

We were all disturbed in our morning work by a tremendous barking and a swiftly moving Norwegian pursued by ten angry dogs.

Some of the dig house pack still live on the roof

Some of the dig house pack still live on the roof

We used to have a friendly pack of dogs at the dig house, which were useful for keeping off the less friendly dogs, and for howling at you when you tried to visit the toilets at night. Alas, a doggy plague took them all off a year or so gone.

We are now beset with cats, who scream all night, have violent sex with each other despite all being closely related, and have taken to sleeping in the oven since the weather turned cold. The most revolting and malevolent of them, Oy, has managed to burn all the whiskers off one side of his head this week; I suspect he has taken up smoking which would account for the hacking cough.

Oy's burnt whiskers are clearly visible as he eats a chicken head, on which he is sick shortly after.

Oy’s burnt right whiskers are clearly visible as he eats this chicken head, on which he is sick shortly after.

Quote of the week: “You don’t often get to see a donkey being electrocuted.” (Dig director on seeing a donkey being electrocuted.)