Sitting writing on the triclinium…

Gary Studley is currently poet-in-residence at Canterbury Roman Museum.

Hello readers and welcome to another great day in the metropolis. Here’s Blog Six.

Despite everything the press may try to tell us about how bad life is, the Earth is still approximately the same circumference as ever (about 25,000 miles at the Equator) and the human race as a whole just keeps on trying.  And wonderfully, the thing about almost anywhere these days is that, whether it’s a cul-de-sac around the corner; a town in the same country; or a distant island spinning near another continent, we no longer have to use an atlas to plan how to get there, nor take an eternity with an encyclopaedia to research its history, culture or famous sites. We don’t even have to ask someone older or more intelligent than us. Like-wise, I’m sure that when the images from Pluto start to wing their way back to Earth there will already be a Wikipedia entry all about them before they arrive. Mind you, how accurate it will be is another thing entirely!  The internet, smartphones, television etc, all help to bring us information on ancient tribes; scientific discoveries; terrible singing by people who really can’t; political rants by people who shouldn’t; and news of the fates of nations far and wide. And there’s an awful lot of fun to be had on Spotify and YouTube and stuff to be learnt if we use these things wisely.  However, like the free-thinkers of yester-year, we do not have to base our opinions on school-masters, news casters, politicians or the established order. We can now look things up with the click of a mouse or flick of a finger and choose what to decipher, who to talk to and even which propaganda to believe or decry. And of course, as we are not daft, we can use our judgement to check any Wikipedia entries or newspaper stories which sound just too fanciful to be true! By the way, as you can probably see, I’m a little polarized when it comes to instruments of mass communication!

With technology so brilliant and helpful, everywhere we go these days we can choose to be in touch with the world (Wi-Fi dead-zones permitting) but of course the flip side of this is that – as shared in Blog One – sometimes it feels that no matter how far or how hard we run, the Hound of the Baskervilles  (telesales; on-line petitions; junk/spam emails etc) can sniff us out and track us down, and paws pinning shoulders, demand our time, all the while dropping huge globules of slobber on our bared necks. In light of the latter, one of the things I particularly like about my residency is that the museum has very little internet reception so I am able to concentrate and find answers under my own steam – a bit like how some friends ban smart-phones in pubs as a protest against the way they are used to look up answers and can ruin the art of good conversation. Thankfully the museum makes me far quieter than I normally am and in addition, gives me an environment to sit and create. There is also the great advantage that I can listen – and if I’m lucky, at times the lack of Wi-fi and music combine in jocular ways.

You must be joking!

       No I’m not – sniff it.

I’m not sniffing the walls! You sniff them.

       I am sniffing! If I wasn’t sniffing, then how would I have smelt it?

Well, you look proper mental, so I’m not doing that. I’m gonna Google it…

       You could just walk around a bit and try for once!

I am trying! I’m searching ‘Interactive Roman Museum’, aren’t I ?

       That’s not trying  – that’s cheating!

Oh, stop moaning!  There’s no signal anyway!

       Ha!

Now, it’s not every day that I hear a conversation like that – well, not the sniffing part, at least. I was tucked away in the Roman Dining Room area, sitting writing on the triclinium (three-sided lounging couch) and could hear these two voices ( male, female, male, female etc) walking my way. Eventually the twenty something girl stuck her head around the corner and after getting over the shock of me moving (some folk think I’m a mannequin, when I’m writing) asked me a) “Do you work here?” (I have to wear a lanyard) and b)”Can you smell bacon?” And do you know what, now that she mentioned it, I actually could!  As a veteran vegetarian I can vouch that the popular myth is in fact a truism – there is nothing quite as tempting as the smell of bacon in the morning – or afternoon, and it ensnares more than one of us weak and emaciated veggies back into the fold! But until that point I hadn’t smelt it.

2015-07-17 14.17.33 2015-07-17 14.17.59

Almost immediately her boyfriend shouted from the kitchen installation next door “Hey, they’ve got it in this display! She’s cooking a ham! Come here!” When we both joined him he was bent down, peering closely at the fake coals of the cooking fire, trying to ‘see’ where the smell was coming from, if that makes sense?   Triumphantly he declared, “Aha!  I told you! I knew they were Fakin’ The Bacon!” to which – in a classic moment of relationship swings and roundabouts / joie de vivre – the girlfriend  replied “Oh, whoopee! You’re right again!”  And just as suddenly, in a truly modern moment he then whipped out his phone and posed for a thumb-up selfie by the stove area, all to the sound of his girlfriend’s tutting. Ah, young love is a beautiful thing!

Although I’d been amongst the oil-lamps, utensils, sacks of grain and plastic onions before, I stayed with them as they inspected the female slave/cook as she rather woodenly burnt a huge chunk of resin meat on a grill because the couple were quite funny and us writers need entertaining too! And personally I like the room because in my own art I often use old tools,  bones, feathers and such like and am quite into taxidermy and the weird world of Ripley type places, so for me, the kitchen has a familiar, homely vibe. Subsequently, when the girl’s mock-shock cry of “Oh, gross!” came from behind me I knew that she had just encountered the part of the Roman larder that all the kids like – dead birds and a rabbit both hanging from the sort of string you have to pretend hasn’t come from Ye Olde Worlde Hardware Store. Interestingly, the gaping beaks often freak grown-ups out but not the kids. Why is that?

I took the opportunity to wish them well on their tour of the town and left the youngsters to it so that I could return to the task in hand. Later on that afternoon I sketched a cabinet of figurines representing some of the many gods that the Romans worshipped. They are odd and quirky and as a poem came from my studying them, I shall hold fire on revealing any more right now. However, whilst sitting on the floor by one of the huge, heavy studded doors to scribble the first draft of my poem, Dark Ghost/Spectre or whatever it will eventually be called, I started to get peckish and realised that I could smell bacon butties. Except this time, I could also feel a slight draught accurately targeting my bald spot. Above my head was a large, metal, air conditioning vent and upon enquiring of the front of house staff shortly after, it appears that Canterbury Roman Museum draws the line at glowing plastic coals and so in all likelihood, today’s couple were arguing about the accidentally siphoned off smells of the neighbourhood’s pubs and restaurants, rather than the manufactured ghosts of breakfasts past.  Now, I know if they don’t get to read this it’s possible the couple will never be enlightened, but at least it will give them something to tell their friends when they run through their Dropbox photos of their trip around what is, according to Lonely Planet , the best family holiday destination in Europe  – our very own, Kent.

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