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Garden

My Fenland garden in the autumn

I don’t know how you discovered this site, but I’m glad you did. There’s all sorts of stuff here.  I’ve been an archaeologist for over forty years and have excavated several major sites, mostly in the Fens of eastern England. I’ve also tried to bring archaeology to a wider audience, with a number of books, radio and television programmes, of which Time Team is the best known. When not writing or digging, I’m also a sheep farmer and keen gardener. But like most people, I get bees in my bonnet – obsessions, call them what you like. Most of  my worries are about the general disregard for the achievements of people in the past and the failure of politicians, both local and national, to learn the lessons of  history. Hence the title of this blog: In The Long Run. So to sum up, this will be the place to see stuff about archaeology, gardening, farming and rural life, books, broadcasting, history and the occasional intemperate rant. It won’t be very formal, because I don’t ‘do’ formality. But I do hope it’ll be fun.

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AC2 – an Open Letter

Dear Everyone Kind Enough to Follow this Blog,

I think if I were a follower of In The Long Run, I’d probably be very relieved that my email account was not being bombarded with strange stuff about arcane garden plants or even weirder pieces about an improbable detective/archaeologist called Alan Cadbury. And of course there were those accounts of Time Team shoots: ‘Day 3 and John Gator has fallen into the jaws of his radar scanner’. Or then there are those tales from the farm or from my visits to ancient sites in Britain and elsewhere. All have been absent from your screens for several months now. And I suppose this is by way of an apology.

Of course it’s all my own stupid fault. Maisie told me not to do it, but I pressed ahead, despite her dire warnings. And as she predicted, progress on the new book was checked by the appearance of The Lifers’ Club proofs. Then around springtime it was lambing, closely followed by the proofs of HOME: A Time Traveller’s Tales from Britain’s Prehistory. And finally my skin cancer face cream thing happened.  But still I persisted with the second Alan Cadbury book (which I refer to as AC2). So something had to give, and I’m afraid it was this blog.

So I am absolutely determined: I will never repeat the same mistakes in the future. I’ll manage my time far more carefully. And I’ll continue to make impossible resolutions – which I’ll ignore, and then regret. So then I’ll make some more. Can you detect a pattern beginning to emerge?

But now for the good news, if that is, you’re a follower of Alan Cadbury’s exploits. I’m now about ¾ of the way through it, and with luck I’ll have the first draft of the manuscript ready for my Editor, the great Liz Garner, sometime in November (I’d originally promised late October, so that’s not too bad…). Meanwhile I’m about to start completing the necessary forms for Unbound so that they can (a) approve of the project and (b) get an idea of its size and scope. So far I’ve written about 100,000 words, so the final version will probably be about 130-140,000, which is roughly the same size as Lifers (or AC1, as I sometimes think of it). I think we’ll launch the AC2 fund-raising campaign before Christmas, if all goes well.

And I know I should be paying more attention to my Author’s Shed – a blog, in effect – on the Unbound website, but that, too has suffered, like my own blog. There are just too few hours in the day, I’m afraid. I do, however,  very occasionally find time to do stuff for other people. Alan Cadbury gave me this blog post for the DigVentures website. It’s a bit scurrilous, I’m afraid, but I hope I managed to edit out all the actionable passages. Anyhow, here’s the link

http://digventures.us4.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=22a0f4e4c7f72ba483492ac1b&id=c09a2b6558&e=ae1e5dee80

So watch this space and please, please inundate me with bottles of cheap Cava when I do eventually finish the AC2 manuscript, sometime next month. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. With luck.

Anyhow, this picture is what my desk looks like when I set down to work each morning.

My desk, writing AC2The manuscript is on the big screen. The smaller computer on the left is linked to the web and my notes and sketch maps of AC2’s main site in its setting, are to the right. I also have a mini-iPad which I use to check quick things such as the spelling of Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St. Edmunds (well worth a visit, if you like later Bronze Age metalwork, incidentally).

Now it’s back to the creative grind-stone, the quern, the mortar…. Pestle off, Pryor!

Toodlepip.

Francis

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Oh, the Pains of Love and Life(rs)

This was the title of an email I received the other day from a very old and dear friend who worked on my Fengate project back in the latter 1970s. And we’ve stayed in touch ever since. You’ll be glad to know that she gave me permission to reproduce it here. Anyhow, it made me laugh a lot. I haven’t dared show it to AC yet, though.

Dear Agony Doctor,

I am in love, and the object of my affections doesn’t even know I exist. He’s an archaeologist, of course, because I don’t ever meet anyone else. He has a chiselled jaw, steady grey eyes, floppy dark hair and a cute butt. He’s younger than me by about 65 years, but that’s never stopped me before. He’s so brave, but kind of sensitive too? He even cried when his Land Rover blew up? And he’s right-on PC; he even likes the Fuzz! And here’s the bit I really like: he’s a thinker. And he drinks whisky and keeps trying to stop smoking – what not to LURVE???

Trouble is, he’s in love with this draggy moralistic bitch called, oh I can’t remember, but he calls her HARRY, I ask you, what a give-away and it isn’t a REAL relationship, because he keeps getting out of bed to solve Big Problems. I tell you, he wouldn’t get out of bed with a real woman like ME, not for any old tank of maggots.

Do you think he’d notice me if I changed my third Ph.D. from ‘Kicking Arse with the Incas: narratives of power in the Late Horizon of Guatemala’ to ‘It’s all about Incest: new light on the Deverel-Rimbury’???

Please advise.

Love-lorn of Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Bringing-in New Blood from Wales

Ever since our sheep caught foot-rot from a neighbouring young farmer, who had borrowed one of our rams to get his flock started, we’ve tried our best to run a so-called ‘closed flock’. The farmer in question didn’t have much money and had decided to start his new enterprise by buying a pen of cull ewes at market. Now cull ewes are just what they seem: ewes that are either too old, or have some other problem, usually to do with their udders, which make them unreliable as mothers to young lambs. Had I known that he’d done that, I wouldn’t have lent him one of our rams. Anyhow, one or more of the ewes that were in the same field as our tup carried a virulent strain of foot-rot. It was a damp autumn that year, and the infection soon spread to our ram. Sadly, we didn’t detect it until a few weeks later, by which time it had been transmitted to all our rams and then into the ewes. It spread like wildfire when we brought the in-lamb ewes into the barn for the worst weeks of winter. And I’ll never forget the horrible smell of rotting live flesh – it pervaded everything.

That outbreak was disastrous: ewes couldn’t stand to feed their lambs; then, a few weeks later, they couldn’t graze properly and were constantly short of milk. That summer we had to cull about half the flock. By then we’d started to inject with an expensive foot-rot vaccine, which took about three years to get completely on top of the problem. I reckon that foot-plague cost us about £5,000, not to mention the terrible suffering it inflicted on the poor sheep. Normally, we love lambing, but not for two years, when, frankly, it was sheer Hell.

So to avoid repeating this disaster we never buy-in replacement ewes, preferring to breed-on ourselves, which is why we have three blood-lines – and three rams. This ‘closed flock’ system works remarkably well until, that is, you get the first signs of in-breeding . Last spring, for example, we had a lamb born with a cleft-palate and another with a mal-formed jaw. I’m fairly certain these are problems to do with in-breeding – and anyhow, it was high time we bought-in new blood-lines. So that’s how we found ourselves driving due west towards the little town of Meifod, in Powys. A few weeks earlier the farmer there, Mr. Bennett, had phoned us ‘on spec’: were we interested in buying rams? It was as if he’d been reading our thoughts.

Anyhow, after a four-hour drive through the increasingly congested roads of the English northern Midlands, we reached Upper Hall Farm and were treated to a delicious lunch of Lasagne prepared by his daughter. Later we waddled out into the field as the rams were brought into the handling pen, by a wonderful, and completely silent, Border Collie, who had been superbly trained by our host. I don’t think I have ever seen a pen of better-looking rams. They were superb. If Lleyns have a fault as a breed, it’s a tendency to have rather short bodies; so breeders are always on the look-out for ‘length’. And I have never seen such body length, as on those rams; there wasn’t a short one among them.

Bennetts' tups

So if you’re a sheep farmer and you’re looking for a cracking good Lleyn ram for the autumn tupping season, may I strongly recommend Mr Bennett of Hall Farm (Twitter: @BENNETT____)? You’ll never regret it, I promise. Never. We bought two and will collect them shortly.  And they’re as good as the picture here shows. We tend to name our rams, as this makes it simpler to think about blood-lines. Previous rams have included the fathers, sons, grand-sons and great-grandsons of Monty, of Tex, of Carlton, of Brian, of Corby and of Glen . Anyone care to Tweet some suggestions for our two new boyos (@pryorfrancis)?

2 tups

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Time Team: Sailing into the Sunset?

Next Sunday Channel 4 will be screening the last new Time Team film of any sort. It’s about prehistoric boats and I very much enjoyed being a part of it. So do try to see it, if only for old times’ sake. But when Philip Clarke, the man in charge of making the film, emailed me with the news, it set me thinking.

We’ve been treated to some ghastly horrors in the news of late: scenes of early medieval barbarity in Iraq and Syria; and Russia returning rapidly to the days of Ivan the Terrible. We are being treated to nasty re-runs of history – and why? Because for many people history is about rote-learned texts and semi-mythical tales handed down through the generations. The world view that this engenders is essentially medieval, irrational and certainly pre-Enlightenment. Religious fundamentalists in America describe themselves as ‘People of the Book’, which is indeed what jihadists and others are. But what the modern world needs desperately are ‘People of Many Books’; people who seek rationality and ways in which the whole of humanity can survive on an increasingly over-crowded planet. And this can only be achieved through rationality, and with it, a dispassionate, flexible approach to the lessons of history.

I wouldn’t say for one moment that Time Team had such lofty goals, but in our very small way we took hesitant steps in that direction. I hope others will build on the many boats we floated.

Boats that made Britain

Posted in Archaeology, Broadcasting, Time Team | Tagged , , ,

A Grand Tour: South Tyrol, Leicestershire and my vegetable garden – Oh yes, and Twink

For many people summer is about lying on a beach, getting sunburnt, but although I’ve tried to do it, I’ve never really succeeded. For a start, I turn the colour of an over-cooked lobster in about twenty minutes, but before that I get bored. Bored stiff. No, to be honest, I’d rather be out-and-about doing things and the more diverse the better. The last month has been splendid in that regard. Every day starts with 3 hours writing Alan Cadbury‘s second adventure – known in our household as AC2. And I have to say it’s going quite well and about to get a bit dark and brooding. It’s funny: but although I plan what I’m going to write beforehand, the final product is often very different. It’s as if the book and the people within it are beyond the control of a mere author. I’m just a pipe, a conduit, through which the action flows. And on the whole I think that’s quite healthy – dammit, pipes can’t acquire huge egos. Even the largest conduit of all – the Channel Tunnel – is surprisingly humble, when placed alongside the glories of, say, Lincoln or Ely Cathedrals. Hmm, is this making sense? Perhaps not. And besides, I think I’m digressing (either that, or I’m turning a bit peculiar).

Alpine reservoir, South Tyrol

So back to my Grand Tour, which turns out to be rather Tristram Shandy-esque. It starts with a five-day trip to film strange things in the Italian Alps. I ate and drank far too much – I’ve always said that the Italians are the most civilised people on earth and after that short visit, I’m confirmed in that opinion. Then back in England I headed to Burrough Hill, a huge Iron Age hillfort near Melton Mowbray, where I did some more filming – for a different film. I’m ashamed to say that although it’s not far from where I live, I’ve never been there before. It was FABULOUS. And the sheep were pretty good, too. It was almost as spectacular as Maiden Castle itself, although a lot smaller and univallate (with one encircling set of ramparts). I loved the way that medieval ridge-and-furrow came right up to the main entranceway. Very Leicestershire/Rutland, that. Alan Cadbury would have approved wholeheartedly.

Burrough Hill hillfort, Leics

Then I’ve spent the last few days in my vegetable garden pruning the selfsame plum tomatoes (San Marzano is the variety) I’d been eating a week previously in Verona. But those lucky Italians with all that sunshine don’t have to remove leaves and small shoots to guarantee a good, well-ripened crop. Still, the extra work is well worthwhile as one sucks down home-made ketchup in January. Ah, the delights of vegetable gardening!

Tomatoes close-up

And finally Twink, our sheepdog. Dear old Twink is now an elderly lady. She’s arthritic and almost stone deaf, but she can still get sheep to move just by giving them ‘the eye’. I thought about getting a replacement, but having down-sized to only 40-odd ewes (so 80 lambs max.), the dog wouldn’t get enough exercise – and that wouldn’t be fair on him/her. So now we have to make-do without her, although she likes to join us when we’re driving the small flock and often manages to turn them away from the gate we want them to pass through. Still, I’d rather a few false moves than watch an unhappy Twink standing resentfully outside the field. I fear she won’t last very much longer, as Border Collies aren’t a long-lived breed, but while she’s still with us, I want her to be happy.

Twink on her back

And on that sombre note I’ll go and peel a few plum tomatoes, then cook them up with a little white wine, garlic and chilli peppers. I call it a Mexican Ratatouille. Maisie calls it ‘Your Poison’. But it’s hot and tasty. Yum!

Posted in Broadcasting, Farming, Gardening, My life | Tagged , , ,

Lifers: First the Doorstep, then the Mind?

You’ve got to arrive somewhere if you’re ever to enter people’s lives and the doorstep is as good a place as any. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as my Twitter account is increasingly packed with images people have sent me and their friends, of The Lifers’ Club on their doorsteps, desktops (spot the MDF), and in one notably scary instance, their dentist’s chair! Then these pictures get re-Tweeted and Favourited, and before I know it the cover of Lifers is everywhere. HOORAY! That’s why I wrote (and re-wrote) it: to be read and (hopefully) enjoyed. So if you’ve just received your copy and you inhabit the Twittersphere, then please Tweet it; if I may coin a phrase: many Tweets make a Cheer! I must say that publishing through Unbound is proving an extraordinary experience. Over the years I have published lots of books, but the only feedback I’ve received from readers has been at Book Fairs – gigs like Hay-on-Wye or Ilkley – or when I bump into people by accident, in the train or supermarket – although having said that, I’ve never actually seen anyone reading one of my books in public, like in a bus, or on the London Underground. It’s always something that comes up in conversation. You could say that up until now, my contact with readers has been rather distant – almost at one remove. But not with Unbound. I’ve had Tweets that have been sent me when the book is first received, then at various times during its reading and then something at the end, when it’s finished. So far (thank Heavens!) the comments have all been kind – enthusiastic, even. It seems to have been a hard one to put down – which is what I intended. I think readers might find AC2 a bit different. I hope it’ll be a good read, but it’s turning out to be more reflective. Alan has been bruised by his experiences in the Lifers’ Club and he’s a bit older and wiser. It’s again set in the Fens, this time on a dig-cum-television-shoot and has benefited a lot from all the films I made for Time Team and my own docs for Channel  4. I have to say I’m very much enjoying writing it – and in my experience that will make for a happier read, too. The main thing is that I’ve really appreciated what readers have had to say. Without their encouragement I might well have given up the attempt to change tracks from non-fiction to fiction. So a million thanks to all my subscribers and buyers. Do come to Ilkley (I’ll be speaking there on Sunday October 5th) and of course I’ll be at Hay-on-Wye in 2015. I’d be surprised if my publicists at Unbound and Penguin don’t manage to find any other gigs before then. Anyhow, I’ll keep you posted in this blog. But again (and I can’t say it enough): MANY, MANY thanks for all your good wishes and encouragement. I really do appreciate it! So to finish I’d like to include a selection of the pictures of Lifers that people were good enough to Tweet. Spot the floors, the MDF desktops and of course the dentist’s chair. And I don’t want to sound pretentious, but these aren’t photos of a book cover: they’re snapshots of time and emotional connection – and I for one, find them very powerful and evocative. I suppose you could say they illustrate the reasons why I persist in writing… Btz2fKFCYAAQjkG BtzBQaACEAE_zpc BtzpISsCEAARsJF BuJ5g7QCMAA8KZp BunmNnCIQAAWHZJ BuXVk1QCYAA0eyo Bt0BQWUIAAAXBKP Bt3QiSKIEAAezbm Bt4G5lJIUAA0o_c Btp6pB-IQAEqa0N BtxtknFCEAAfKHC Btycsq-IQAAvv9F BtyD31LIgAAvltr Btz1jHWCQAE9hvd

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Sorry About the Silence

It has been a long time since I sat down at this keyboard and up-dated my blog, but I’m afraid events got the better of me. After all these years, I’ve discovered that I am indeed human and bits of me can sometimes cease to function. In that respect I’m rather like my old (1964) International  B414 tractor which didn’t operate in the early summer because a family of wrens had decided to take up residence, and raise a small family, inside the lift-arms of the muck-bucket. They didn’t move out until  well into June, by which time the grass in the orchard was up to my waist.

Lambing went well and finished in mid-April; and for a month thereafter we concentrated on feeding the lactating ewes and looking after the lambs. Quite early in May I had a consultation with the dermatology specialist in Kings Lynn Hospital, who suggested I should start the course of skin treatment I discussed in my last blog post. I applied the first cream on May 14th and by the end of the month it was starting to feel very uncomfortable. At this point I will show a selfie of my face that I took yesterday:

FP clean face

I think you’ll agree I’m looking very much better. The pain has gone entirely as has the dryness and flakiness. I don’t need to apply aloe vera and moisturiser, but I do – just to be safe. And you’ll never find me outside without my trusty Canadian Tilley Hat and a layer of factor 50+ sun-block. I finished the course of cream on June 28th and I have to concede, it made me feel pretty grim. It took another three weeks to feel better, but after a fortnight progress was quite rapid – helped by rose-hip oil pressed on me by kind neighbours and my new friend-for-life, pure, unscented aloe vera gel.

On July 1st we sheared our much-reduced flock of about 50 sheep and were delighted to welcome a new shearer, Kaylee Campbell (all the way from sunny Norfolk) who did a fabulous job and treated the animals with enormous care and consideration. It was a treat to watch Kaylee, who must weigh around half my weight, handle 60 kilo ewes as if they were made from Styrofoam. Admittedly she did need some assistance when it came to the largest rams (90 kilos?), but then so did most of our previous shearers. When it comes to rams, shearing doesn’t always follow the textbook. It must be fun to watch.

Meanwhile, throughout June I was carefully reading and correcting the first and second proofs of my Penguin book, HOME: A Time Traveller’s Tales from British Prehistory, which will be published on October 3rd. I also managed to pull a muscle in my back, probably because I was so unfit thanks to the face cream and enforced periods of inactivity indoors – frankly it hurt to rub-in sun-block, so I couldn’t venture outside. So I read many of the proofs at an improvised ‘desk’ of piled-up cardboard boxes. That way, I could at least stand and read – which was much more comfortable.

Between batches of proofs, we managed to snatch a 5-day break at the Vivat Trust’s wonderful little Church Brow Cottage at Kirby Lonsdale, Lancashire. I feature it in The Making of the British Landscape (pp. 502-3). Vivat have done a wonderful job there: the garden is kempt, but rambling and the place has a splendid authentic  Regency feel to it. And even the supermarket in Kirby is superb – why don’t we have a branch of the wonderful Booths in south Lincolnshire?

I returned to more proofs and captions, then on July 15th our neighbour, Charles, cut the hay. It was blazing hot weather and the forecast outlook was good. On July 17th he turned it, then rowed it up ready for baling on July 18th. I took this picture as  Charles was setting-up the tedder:

Rowing-up hay

The baler was meant to arrive around noon on the 18th, but couldn’t, because at 11.00 AM a solitary cloud meandered in from off the North Sea, presumably bored and desperate for a leak, spotted our hay and relieved itself. Then it thundered and rained over the weekend. It dried out on Sunday afternoon; the dry spell continued and Charles was able to bale on the following Tuesday. Then more picture proofs arrived. At the end of that week I went up to London, feeling a bit stiff after driving my International for 8 hours the previous day, shifting bales, and signed copies of the Lifers’ Club at Unbound’s office tower (two rooms, actually) in Dean Street, Soho. While I was there I Tweeted this picture:

Lifers Club book signing

And Twitter now tells me that people (or their pet cats, in the case of my friend Mark Allen) are receiving their copies. I hope they arrive in time to be read in bars or on beaches during the summer holidays – I also hope the book keeps folk awake, just a bit…

And to add to the mix, I’ve been writing Alan Cadbury’s second murder/mystery, also set in the Fens, but this time in the peatlands around Ely. It’s turning out to be a rather different sort of book and although I’ve planned it in some detail, it’s changing quite a lot, as I write. The characters have taken over and I’m doing my best to record what they’re doing. It’s strange to be playing catch-up with your own creations.

Anyhow, I thought I’d close with a moody sunset view, taken from our bedroom window:

Fenland sunset

Sometimes a picture just works – one can get it spot-on.  Although as I look at it, I don’t recognise my own hand in it. I can’t help wondering:  was it me, or Alan Cadbury who pressed that shutter?

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