Francis Pryor first suggested I should write this column when we were getting towards the end of our many note-taking sessions, which he then edited into The Lifers’ Club. We generally met in my local, ‘The Slodger’s Arms’ and I still don’t know why I agreed. But I did. Later he told me he categorically refused to edit my pissed-up rants and ramblings, since he had no intention of upsetting friends and colleagues. Not that he has many, these days, the poor old fart. The successful ones have bought houses in France and the academics never gave a toss, anyhow. So I can’t see why he’s getting his knickers in such a twist. Sad, really.
‘OK,’ I told him, ‘if you’re so damn clever, suggest a topic to start my first blog?’
He looked me straight in the eyes when he replied:
‘You’re always telling me that curators and local authority archaeologists are Jobsworths, most of whom couldn’t run a bath, let alone a dig. What do you think will happen when government money is turned off – as it is likely to be, very soon?’
Yes, that set me thinking. I suppose one or two of the County Mounties do know what they’re doing, though there is no hiring requirement for those posts that they have an understanding of field archaeology, which many of them clearly do not. But even so, in the age of the internet do we really need local authority-run SMRs? The trouble is, they’re run by local civil servants, who have to have nice, secure jobs, with career structures, job descriptions and all that stuff.
Out in the real world of small units and here-today-gone-tomorrow consultancies, not to mention self-employed blokes like myself, we do the work, whatever it takes; and often we don’t get paid much. But the thing is, we do it. So if government money is running out, surely we can come up with other methods of doing things? Surely there are more ways of policing people and projects than through bureaucracy? If truly experienced field archaeologists were passing judgement on their peers’ work, you might even find standards start to rise! God knows how many times I’ve had sections and plans scrutinised – and criticised dammit! – by curators who couldn’t trowel their way out of a wet paper bag. And the dear old IFA are no better. The only reason that any of us out in the trenches are Associates is that we wouldn’t get hired if we didn’t have the letters AIFA after our names. And believe me, that’s the only reason. It’s jobs for the boys. Frankly, the IFA does f*-all for us poor sods out in the field. ‘Quality assurance’! My arse.
So what do we do? I suggest we talk among ourselves, as equals, and not as invitees to some toffee-nosed seminar or conference. Because if the money isn’t there, there’s no use bleating about it. If we believe in what we do, if archaeology is what gets you up in the morning, despite having a head like a lobster’s crotch, then we can’t let 40 years of progress just vanish. In Britain we do archaeology better than anyone else in the world, so let’s not go down whimpering. Let’s duck, weave and improvise. Use the web. Use our popularity with the public. Think on our feet. Dammit, we’re none of us stupid. So if all else fails, I suggest we wage guerrilla war, with hard-fought local campaigns. Learn from mistakes and pass the secrets of success on to others. To hell with self-serving bureaucrats and grasping politicians: we’re fighting to save Britain’s roots – and her Soul.
If you’d like to follow up with Alan, pick a fight, or otherwise get in touch, you can find him on twitter: @alancadbury
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