Sometimes I wonder, as I watch my bright green holdall approach on the airport baggage carousel, why all my travelling things are strong primary colours. My laptop case and my camera are bright red, my small holdall is bright blue, my tablet cover is bright green. Sometimes I catch my reflection in the customs area two-way mirrors and I look like a dirty clown. The answer may lie in the unrelentingly colour-free environments to which I’m usually heading, southern Iraq being the example par excellence. This place is beige, so beige at times I feel like I’ve woken up in a sepia silent movie and am surprised when people speak out loud and it doesn’t cut to a dialogue frame with “Oh no! Wind has blown my bonnet off!”
Our plastic flowers used to be pink and the grass used to be green. This picture is in full colour
The beige is everywhere and gets everywhere. It never seems to be in quite the right place and the desert is always full of diggers and bulldozers moving the beige around a little bit, pushing a ridge here or a little pile there to see if that makes it better. From the air the beige looks like it’s been scribbled on by toddlers. This process of beige adjustment has been going on indefinitely, as we find from the archaeology. Perhaps one day the people of Iraq will get all the beige just where they want it and be happy and rejoice and live in peace.
A pauses to shake the beige out of his ears
The other major redistributor of beige is the wind, which we’ve had quite a lot of so far. Every morning F asks me what the weather forecast says about the wind today. I tell her, and watch the tears of purest beige roll down her beige encrusted cheek. On site my on-going recovery of fragmented cuneiform tablets is not enhanced by the beige howling round my head, scouring the plaster off the wall faces and dusting over the excavation surface. I’ve been wearing my beige-tight goggles and trying to keep the beige out of my ears. It blows down the collar of my shirt from where my T shirt channels it under the waistband of my trousers and into my pants. Back at the house I go to my beige steel dragon and shower it off with slightly beige water until I have a beige shower tray. As I write this J is trying to wash the beige out of our clothes but all this does is produce gallons of beige water to silt the drain up. The clothes remain beige.
The sad tank of Eridu
This morning we visited Eridu and Tell Ubaid, two more large mounds of beige. At Eridu we played on a broken tank with a big warning sign in Arabic next to it. At Tell Ubaid we found some human remains eroding out of a shallow grave on top of the mound. They were wrapped in a green waterproof.
The boys compare torsos: I am satisfied that none of us are in fact androids
We’ve finally had two consecutive full days on site after a lot of delays. These have been mostly due to rain but there was also the many joys of the goverment medical inspection, which involved a full day in Nasiriyah being tested for AIDS and having our chests X-rayed. As one of the healthier looking expedition members (I am one of the few with working knees) I was spared the x-ray, which was lucky as I didn’t want to have a conversation about underwired bras with an Iraqi doctor. They took my blood though, after which I had the sleeve of my jumper immediately, and rather aggressively, tugged back down by a burly old woman, least the men be aroused by the sight of my naked elbow.
Visit to Eridu: Bricks, bitumen, bullets
[insert phallic quip]
On site it was time for some photography today. As we are a highly advanced technological project this was not the usual matter of shinning up a stepladder, putting the camera on auto and hoping for the best. Instead we got out the fifteen meter long telescopic ‘quickshot’ pole (which causes much consternation at airports due to its visual similarity to a rocket launcher coupled with the fact it has ‘Quickshot’ written on the side of it). After buckling staff member A into the harness, and enduring an extraordinarily large amount of faffing, we extended the pole to its full height, giving the impression that A was going fishing for enormous salmon. Various parts of the pole then proceeded to retract into each other, necessitating adjustments with allen keys, then the laptop into which the camera was plugged had to be turned off and on, before finally the camera ran out of battery just as we were ready to take some photos. Isn’t technology marvellous.
Test flight: the photo drone soars through the sky with the grace and directionality of an angry, drunk bee
There had been hope last week that even the camera-laptop-pole arrangement had had its day after the arrival on site of our new photo drone – a small sinister black rotorcraft related to the ones Amazon wants to use to deliver box sets (and the ones America uses to blow up Afghan weddings). This was successfully trialed last week, successfully taking several hundred photos of mud from various heights up to thirty metres. Alas, this brave new archaeological world is now on hold due to minor damage sustained in a heavy landing and it being discovered that we need permission from the Iraqi army to fly it. Thus our dreams are made dust.