Tag Archives: Saddam Hussein

Pinning the tail on the donkey

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We receive a visit from the Basra Parthian Cavalry Reenactment Group, otherwise known as Yusef’s annoying brother Ibrahim with a pink blanket on his dad’s horse

Life is like an evaluation trench; you never know what you’re going to get, and then when you do get it you usually don’t understand it. So things go at the new site where the geophysicists have gone home leaving us with lovely magnetometry images of several hectares of apparently well preserved ancient city and three weeks to put some rather small holes in it. Obviously, we put the first ones (ten by twos, go big or go home) in the fanciest, most palatial things we could see. The magnetometry had nigh-on promised me a beautiful Parthian temple, and F a nice big baked brick boundary wall. I found some shallow moth-eaten architecture all chopped about by late intrusive graves and F found the torpedo magazine of a long-sunken pottery submarine.

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Sunk without firing a shot

It all goes to reinforce my long-held conviction that you really don’t know shit until you dig a site up, and sometimes not even then. Survey data is always wishful thinking. The site I was just working on before this one, up near Ur, was sold to the directors as a Jemdet Nasr site (3100-2900 BC) based on survey results, then we were promised it was an Old Babylonian (1830-1550 BC) temple by several knowledgeable people based on the satellite photos. On excavation, our convenient cuneiform archive reveals us to have an administrative building of the Sealand Dynasty (1730-1460 BC). Survey really can’t tell you anything more than where to start digging, all the rest is pure speculation (apologies (but not really) to all those archaeologists who have based their careers on survey data).

On Friday our friendly local antiquities official unlocked Saddam Hussein’s Basra riverside palace so that we could take a look around what’s going to be the Basra Museum. It was a bit disappointingly tasteful actually, and I had to grudgingly admit that Saddam might have been a passable interior designer if he hadn’t been a horrible genocidal maniac (he did manage to incorporate 1,200 renderings of his own name into the wall decorations). After, we took a boat up and down the river, passing Saddam’s small cruise ship Basra Breeze, which I am assured is a nauseating abomination in gold and ivory on the inside so perhaps that restores some balance to the force. In a properly ordered universe terrible people only make terrible things.

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Saddam Hussein: on the one hand, total fucknut, and on the other, rather nice ceilings

Speaking of terrible things, this week we gained possession of a number of cans of Iraqi made Mr Louis whiskey. Surely a typo, I hear you cry, but no, it comes in cans, like Sprite, except with a 40% alcohol content and a shittier ring-pull. We’re living on the roof of a police station and they were given to us by the cops, who said they’d confiscated the stuff while raiding houses for illegal antiquities. It smells of Watsits and tastes of Dettol and should never ever be consumed.

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Mr. Louis Original Whiskey, possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, combustion, demonic possession and cancer of the soulIMGP1403small

 

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Scrag end: whiplash and offal

Blood in the sherd yard

Blood in the sherd yard

So at last my time is up in Iraq and I’m just a few short hours away from a world of sleep and television and ham. The last week, as on most excavations, has had it’s little surprises, one of which was coming over to the boys house to find the cook and our driver beheading goats on the patio.

Our dig director, who appeared to be videoing the executions, had bought two goats and invited the workmen to an end of season kebabathon. This benevolent gesture was only slightly undermined in the event by the workmen having to butcher, clean and cook their goat themselves and by the director not realising that there is in fact more to parties than goats, and sometimes you also need things like bread, salad, drinks and somewhere to sit. By the time these fripperies had been prepared most of our guests had gone home, leaving us with around 30kg of goat meat and a strong smell of blood emanating from the garden drain.

Unable to fit into the fridge, a partial goat lingers morosely by the kitchen sink

Unable to fit into the fridge, a partial goat lingers morosely by the kitchen sink

The next morning found me on the floor of the sitting room trying to drag a site report from under the colossal weight of my goat-barbecue hangover, when Mohammed the cook entered bearing a vast tray of raw offal. With a sinking feeling I watched him start to cut the various parts into bite sized pieces before I was driven from the room by the distinctive aroma acting on my weakened constitution. Lunchtime came around with an air of foreboding and mutterings about not being very hungry. Once each of us had been presented with our plate of fried brown objects a tense silence descended as we all tried to work out exactly what we were dealing with. My lucky dip was almost entirely liver (my personal offal bête noire) with a smattering of heart and a large section of wind pipe. I ate the heart and the wind pipe and felt my duty done. Tongue turned out to be a surprising hit, but M. took a turn for the worse after eating half of what transpired to be an ear. If life gives you lemons make lemonade, if life gives you goat offal throw it away before anyone cooks it for you.

All the makings of a lunch of great anatomical interest

All the makings of a lunch of great anatomical interest

On our final day in Sulaimaniya we went to the funfair to drink and smoke. We found a beer garden full of rabbits at the Nawroz Tourism Park and sat down to enjoy the atmosphere of an escaped 1950s Butlins camp that’s been living rough for sixty years. After a suitable amount of chemical stimulants we bought our tickets for the Bumber Cars and asked for all the children to leave before we started. We then took our whiplash to the ghost train, the first exhibit of which was a strobe-lit mannequin of Saddam Hussein dancing on the end of a rope. On that note, I bid Iraq adieu for the moment.

The entrance to the Nowroz Tourism Park ghost train: indeed the portal to another world

The entrance to the Nawroz Tourism Park ghost train: indeed the portal to another reality