It has been an exhausting series of Time Team. The sites have been demanding and as for the weather, well, the least said the better. I think it was at the Machine Gun Corps camp that Raksha told me about her coma day. We were sitting in the hotel bar on the evening of Day 2. Maisie was coming to see us all for lunch tomorrow, then she was going to drive me home when we wrapped (filming finished), as we only lived about an hour away. Ten years ago I might have risked driving myself, but then after filming somewhere around Salisbury in Series 16 or 17, I was driving up the A34 towards Oxford when I started nodding off. The road wasn’t dual-carriageway, traffic was quite heavy, and to this day I don’t know how I managed to pull over and avoid a nasty accident. Looking back, I was a bloody fool, so I rarely drive home on Day 3, no matter how close I am to home. The thing is, Time Team is exhausting. It drains you completely.
And that’s what Raksha and I were discussing that evening in the bar. We were both knackered – and there was still a day to go. I’d asked her how long it took her to recover when she came up with the memorable phrase ‘coma day’, which for her was the day after Day 3. I agreed and added that the next day, too, was hard work for me. I called it ‘semi-coma day’. But we’d reckoned without that final programme – the Roman coastal fort. Not only were we all feeling the cumulative strain, but the site itself was horribly demanding: there were huge numbers of finds, which had to be kept in strict order and the intact archaeological levels were buried under about a metre of Roman building rubble – all of which had to be shifted by hand. There were other problems, too, which I don’t have time to write about now, but the net effect on me was fairly profound. I drove back on coma day, but it felt more like Full Stop Day by the time I got home. Maisie drove us to the local market to pick up something for lunch – brown shrimps, cockles and live oysters, as a bit of a treat, but the short journey made me feel car sick. I was like a zombie and looking back, Maisie was remarkably patient with me. The next day I wasn’t much better. In fact it took me the best part of a week to recover.
But now it’s early September, my favourite month. For the last ten days the sun has been shining and the evenings and nights have been cool. Even though it won’t bear close inspection, the long border in the garden does look pretty stunning, though I say so myself. We’ve both been weeding like demons and at last we’re beginning to make an impact – but probably too late, as there are clouds of seeds every time we pull a weed. Still, if we mulch the topsoil with a thick layer of muck in a couple of weeks’ time, that should suppress many of them.
Out on the farm we’ve sold the store lambs, cull ewes and last year’s female lambs (gimmers), so the fields around the house are very much quieter. It’s a strange time of year: summer, but not summer. Last night there were fewer combines working on until ten or eleven, than there have been over the past ten days. Tonight will probably be quite peaceful. Instead of combines, the roads round here are now being clogged by massive rubber-tracked tractors towing 15- or 20-furrow ploughs. More and more, farming in the Fens is starting to resemble Kansas or Alberta. Early last week we drenched our ewes with 20 ml of micro-nutrient. Drenching simply involves squirting a dose of liquid into each ewe’s mouth, but it has to be done carefully: get it wrong and the dose goes down the wind-pipe and the sheep dies two or three days later of a form of pneumonia. It has only happened to me once, fifteen years ago – I killed a lamb who jumped at the critical moment – but that was enough. So I always go steady. I’m in no rush to break any drenching records, despite the Olympic atmosphere that still pervades Britain. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the Paralympics far more exciting than the supposedly ‘main’ event. Certainly the TV coverage has been very much better: less slick, fewer unnecessary celebs and altogether more genuine. The presenters and commentaries have been first-rate and the actual filming and editing superb. I don’t know who did the production for Channel 4, but they deserve a gold medal – as do all the athletes. Who knows, maybe the corporate world may one day realise that you don’t always have to commoditise. No, some things in life are so good they speak for themselves: like the Paralympic athletes, and a sunny day in September, they don’t need any help, any hype or any marketing.