Lights dimmed, introductions over. The biggest audience of my fledgling career – and I stood on stage as if balanced on a dangerous precipice. Above: clear blue skies soared to impossible heights. Below: perilous waters dashed against the rocks. I shuffled towards the edge and bit down hard. This was the Champions League. This was the Bernabeu. This was the British Museum. And I was Layton Orient.
Sure, I knew the site inside out, upside down, back-to-front. It had been my own personal Vietnam, and was seared onto my brain like a non-consensual bedroom experience. And of course I’d presented this one a number of times before – my therapist had strongly recommended it. But in that never ending split second before I began talking, all I could think about was what would happen in precisely 2 minutes 53 seconds. What would happen when I showed this 400 strong, tweed-clad audience, a cinema-sized slide of Eamonn Lennihan lovingly cradling a Bronze Age post as though it were a gigantic penis?
In my head it all ran like clockwork.
2 minutes 45 seconds: ‘They say that archaeology’s a non-renewable resource, and that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t grow on trees you know’, I’d say showing some of the most amazing preserved timber trackways I’d ever encountered.
2 minutes 50 seconds: ‘And it’s a pleasure to dig. Just look at the expression of joy on this young excavators face,’ I’d say, cutting quickly to Eamonn’s toothy grin.
2 minutes 53 seconds: ‘Ahem,’ I’d clear my throat, as the subliminal cock- shot got stuck on pause.
2 minutes 55 seconds: with mock concern, ‘I’m sorry about that photo it looks like he’s over exposed’.
2 minutes 57 seconds: with a porn star’s hoarse whisper, ‘I think you’ve got wood there son.’
Only it didn’t quite work out to plan. The timings fell to pieces, slowed down by a PC too clunky to run my NASA-style animations. And I was heckled! From somewhere deep in the auditorium, an ear-trumpet was being waved in anger by a pissed off pensioner. Who the hell let my Gran in? Thanks a million.
The moral of this cautionary tale: always open with a knob gag. Don’t wait until 2 minutes 53 seconds into the talk. It’ll just get lost in the general confusion.
Thanks to Jonski, at Headland Archaeology Industrial Light And Magic Inc, for all the graphics. Check his photos of the event here.