Tiered from work, and not yet drunk enough to talk, we pondered the menu with the glazed expressions of the institutionalised. The marketing executives had ganged up on us with their cheap dinner-drinks promos and our nightly subsistence allowance left little room for manoeuvre.
– I think I’ll have…
Well it was obvious. Monday was steak night. No specials on Tuesday. Wednesday was take away night (I usually ended up at Planet Spuds for a chilli con carne spud with extra chillies, a garlic bread with cheese and a can of coke). Thursday was curry night and Friday back home. No doubt about it: we were living the dream.
– …Curry, I said, baffled by the illusion of choice.
– Yeah me too, Scouse John piped up, it was really good that, we had it last week.
Mickey, our new surveyor, finally nodded in defeat and so did Penny.
– Shit The Bed, said Eleanor.
Kings Lynne: a large market town somewhere in the frontier lands of eastern England. We were sat in our usual pub at our usual table in our usual seats, five weeks into a ten-week excavation. As usual, home sweet home meant B&B heaven, but that was more than compensated by the job. What had started out as a run of the mill strip, map and sample on an extension to a sand quarry turned out to be a full excavation of a multi-phased Romano British farmstead.
Most of the pottery we were finding from the field ditches dated to the 2nd and 3rd centaury AD and it was strange to think that what was once a small farm had now changed beyond all recognition. Exhausted sand pits pocked the landscape, some of which had been flooded and were now fishing lakes, with the rest colonised by a domestic waste tip that swallowed the horizon.
Buttoned-up from the cold in our Viz vests and water proofs, we cast giant-sized shadows against the low winter sun, arriving as it rose at eight and leaving as it set at four. It was beautiful and ugly, sublime and ridiculous. Every half hour we would hear the sound of gunfire ricocheting round the quarry as a bitter, twisted refuse worker whacked a few sea gulls. Thousands more would rise in a plume like a swarm of flies, little specks of defiance taking strength in numbers, they would circle over our heads before resettling back down on the landfill for the cycle to begin once again.
With the topsoil stripped from such a wide area, the dark splodges left in the sand told a tale of how the site had developed from its humble beginnings. The main settlement was a large aisled timber building set inside a system of field ditches and trackways; a barn not just for cattle and animals, but also housing a farming family or estate workers. Eventually this was replaced with a substantial stone built structure – an apsidal-ended building next to a pottery kiln. The kiln had collapsed on its final firing and unbelievably we found a near complete cooking jar in the base, and very near by, a fantastically preserved stone-lined well – a first for this part of Norfolk.
Back in the pub, and in a rare conversational break from talking about the job, the subject turned to chat up lines. Drinks were being bought in rounds and we were steadily approaching the 5-pint point of no return. Mickey and Penny were locking horns and I couldn’t help thinking there was more going on than met the eye. As an opening gambit, Penny thought Mickey’s secret-weapon-chat-up-line was a bit weak and I had to agree with her. Apart from anything, her qualifications were infallible. Penny had been to Lanzarote the year before and scored with Milo from the Tweenies. Obviously he wasn’t in costume at the time, but even so, you intuitively knew that anyone who’d shagged a Tweeny was no stranger to crap chat up lines.
But Mickey was a thirty-seven year old man of the world; fifteen years her senior, and he had honed his skill to perfection. With his long hair loose, he’d stroke his goatee, Hamm up the Canadian accent and say “How You Doin?” like Joey from Friends.
– Obviously you think it’s a crap chat-up line: that’s because you’re not in my target market baby, Mickey quipped with all the charm of a sex-pest.
Penny re-lit her rolly and scowled at him from across the table.
– What’s your target market ‘baby’, she wanted to know, blind deaf and desperate?
It went like this, tit for tat for another couple of rounds then we moved into the street and onto the local meet market. Thursday night in town and things were a little frisky. The pubs were kicking out, and as we moved through the pedestrian precinct, I could see a large group of youths gathered around a girl slumped against the doorway of Gregg’s. Tears before bedtime, and nearby, a group of lads were throwing chips at each other as the rest of the girls comforted their friend. A clear and present danger, but we were far too pissed to slam the breaks on and more than capable of rolling with the punches. Apart from Mickey. Missing the cultural nuances, he waited until we were bang in the centre of the action and then fired up his secret weapon.
– Hey! How You Doin…?
No sooner had he opened his gob than an empty Breezer bottle flew past his head. Looking over my shoulder to see where it had come from, the damsel in distress now jumped to her feet and dived at him, claws out-stretched and aiming for his throat. Mickey took evasive action and swerved to his left as her friends held her back. Momentum carried us forward but now all of them started screaming abuse. Mickey picked up the pace and we moved down the street regardless, finally rounding the corner to safety and leaving the screaming banshees in our wake.
Without missing a beat, Scouse John nudged a sheet white Mickey.
– Don’t worry about it Pal. She just wasn’t in your target market.
After that I can remember taking it in turns to push Eleanor home in an abandoned shopping trolley but little else. As we stumbled back into the small room I shared with the three lads I could already feel the inevitable bite of an early morning start: tomorrow’s hangover was in the post.