Always Look On The Bright Side…

…Of Life!” de-dum, de-dum, de-dum de-dum de-dum… And with any luck, that’s a cheerful earful established for the rest of the day.  I bet it beats the hell out of the high background whistling sound my ears have been making for the past few months. I gather it’s tinnitus, probably caused by a combination of old age and a build-up of ear wax. So I’ve been squirting oil in them (the brand I use is called Earol – I love the name!) – and I think it’s starting to work. It always seems worse when I’ve been sitting at my desk tapping away at my laptop, like I’m doing right now. But what the hell – I’ll press on regardless. Which brings me to my first point, which is a cheerful one: he’s gone, that ghastly Trump has at long last been sacked by the US electorate. Thank God, (no, in actual fact: thank people) for democracy! For me at least, Populism and the way it routinely disregards truth, is a major threat to democracy. It has crept up on many of us and taken us by surprise. It’s worth remembering that Hitler and Mussolini were both populists. Only now are we starting to realise what harm Trump has done to the U.S., especially with regard to his arrogant dismissal of all medical advice. His current active support of the death penalty is obscene. But he’ll soon be gone – and with any luck he’ll be prosecuted. Meanwhile, we’ve still got quite a long way to go, especially right here in Britain. So Trump’s departure is a great first step and a huge reason to be cheerful. Cue for return of ear-worm and vision of smiling Eric Idle, stepping lightly from the fridge…

Another reason to be cheerful: a view of the pond in our garden, with the pollarded willows looking particularly glowing. I took this picture in mid-December 2006.IDF

People are making big efforts to raise our morale. It goes without saying that the NHS are performing miracles and I hope the rise of scientific and other medical experts will provide a welcome counter-balance to the usual half-truths and outright lies perpetrated by far too many politicians. But meaningful change happens from the grassroots, up. And what could possibly be more grassroots than the lawns, paddocks, fields, droves and Bronze Age pastures at Flag Fen. Local readers will probably be aware that there have been changes to the way things are being done in Peterborough. The organization created by the City Council to run and manage its museum, theatres and other cultural resources, was known by the name Vivacity. It went bust in June 2020. So the City Council have since decided that Flag Fen is now to be run by Peterborough City College, based in Brook Street, on the eastern side of the City, and not too far from Flag Fen. I know a number of people involved in the new set-up and I feel far, far more relaxed about it, then I did when Vivacity called the shots. It wasn’t always very clear to me what they were aiming at. The new organisation has reassembled an Archaeological Advisory Committee, which I am delighted to serve on, and it seems that some really positive changes might be coming in 2021. Who knows, with luck we might even see small-scale excavation resume there, because without continuing research and monitoring we can have no idea how well the thousands of preserved timbers below the ground are surviving – or drying-out.

But there is one VERY positive omen for the future. The new management has deciding to open the grounds and park at Flag Fen to the public (for free!) for the rest of the winter – until it officially reopens to paying visitors in the spring/summer. The launch event will take place on the mid-winter solstice (very appropriate to the Bronze Age!) on the afternoon of Monday December 21st. And I think a few tickets are still available. Sadly, you must have tickets, to comply with Covid regulations. I have been asked to say a few words of welcome (God knows what they’ll sound like through my thick mask – ho-hum!).

In the days when Fenland Archaeological Trust ran the place, we used to welcome visitors in winter just to enjoy the many walks and the wonderful views of the open Fens. I think Flag Fen has got an atmosphere quite unlike anywhere else and it’s at its very best on clear days in mid-winter, when the sun is low in the sky, the shadows are long and seagulls circle overhead. Sometimes the peace of the afternoon can be broken by the honking sounds of skeins of whooper swans as they make their way back to their evening roosts. Hares scuttle along the overgrown dykesides and dash across the sprouting fields of winter wheat. I’ve even seen roe deer and foxes, not to mention little egrets and grey herons. There’s a wildness and an untamed-ness about the Fens that’s sadly becoming so rare in these grim, and increasingly constrained times. Alone, or with your family at Flag Fen, you could almost imagine that the modern world didn’t exist. It’s a wonderful feeling. So do pay a visit in the New Year – if not before. And who knows, you might get to meet some very nice, like-minded people – fully socially distanced, of course!

A view along the reconstructed Bronze Age droveway at Flag Fen, taken in October 2007, about 18 years after it was initially laid out and the side ditches dug. It’s interesting to see how the side ditches have filled up, by at least a half. This process was entirely natural – the result of moles, frosts and trampling sheep.

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