Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Waiting

Calgacus looked round the tent that he had called home for the last few years and sighed.
It wasn’t much of a home, it was true, and the hide always stank, but leaving it was more symbolic of leaving a life he had gotten used to, even liked, sometimes. More importantly, it was a simple life he knew and was used to, while the future was deeply uncertain.
A simple life, before he had become a surrogate father to a runaway.
He shoved his most valuable possessions – a few tools – in a bag and hefting it over his shoulder went outside. He would go to work, pick up Vita and leave tonight or tomorrow. The Gauls could come or stay as they wished.
Outside was like something from a nightmare.
People were everywhere. The refugees had begun to arrive, mostly from Londinium. Most of them were just frightened and exhausted, but there were also people with minor injuries. Looking around he could see what appeared to be mothers with older children, who must have fled in advance of the attack on the city, while their men stayed to fight. And die.
There was nowhere for them to stay within the city – at least unless you could flash your money at the guards on the West Gate and pay for lodging. So the Vicus had increased massively in size creating a wailing shanty town of people.
Calgacus looked sadly out at the masses. This was not good. If he were them he would not have stopped here, maybe would have gone onto Calleva Atrebatum or continued North along the Watling Street. People were putting their faith in the might of the Empire, but the Empire wasn’t here to defend them. There were not enough soldiers left to fully garrison the city, or so said the rumours that were spreading. These refugees would be defenceless when the Iceni caught up with them.
Antonius was looking pale at the Bath’s construction site.
‘You’re late,’ he said simply.
‘I know. Sorry. I’ll pick up the work pace to compensate.’
Antonius sighed.
‘I’m not sure that it matters. We’re not going to be finished before they hit the town. So even assuming we get out of this alive we’re probably just going to have to rebuild the thing. Yet another time.’
‘Have you thought about leaving Verulamium?’ Calgacus asked.
‘What do you think? Yes, and I’m still considering it. But I am not sure the soldiers will even let you or I leave anyway. We’re able bodied men. When the attack comes we’ll have to help fight.’
‘And I guess as Britons they won’t want to risk us joining up with the enemy either,’ Calgacus hadn’t thought that they might actually be prevented from leaving. His escape route, only a few yards from where they now stood, was looking an increasingly important investment.
‘Quite. What are you going to do with your son?’
Calgacus thought carefully before replying.
‘Keep him with me, so I can protect him. He’s too young to go on the road by himself.’
‘That makes sense. I begged Mariana to go to somewhere safer, but she refused to leave. Said that I was all that she had,’ Antonius said, sounding almost surprised.
‘She is a good wife to you Antonius. My advice to you is to hide her. We built a lot of this city, we know its nooks and its hide holes… Hide her in one of those with food and water and get her to wait it out,’ Calgacus was surprised he suddenly cared so much. But he did feel it was good advice.
He knew several cellars in the city where the entrances were well hidden. If the plan to get out via the hypocaust didn’t work, that was his back-up plan too. He hoped that the attack, however savage, would keep rolling on towards the next target letting the distractions of easy prey and looting keep those – who kept their heads down – safe.
‘Thank you,’ said Antonius,’ that’s a good idea. And she’ll probably accept that too.’
‘Just make sure she doesn’t need you to get our out. In case…’
Antonius smiled grimly and patted Calgacus’ arm.
‘No need to say anything, my friend,’ he said,’ and look on the bright side, if we can get through this, we’ll be rich men – they’ll definitely need builders.’
Calgacus nodded but he couldn’t mirror the smile. He was not as good a liar as the Foreman.

Interview with a beetle

Recently a beetle reminded me how lucky I was.
‘You keep forgetting how lucky you are, my dear,’ said the Beetle, clicking its mandibles.
‘I guess so,’ I admitted.
‘Educated at Oxford, lovely wife, lots of friends of all ages, a mostly fine job for the last 20 years and a house in a good area of a desirable English town, generally healthy most of the time…’ the beetle ticked off the list on her legs, which considering she had six took some time.
‘OK, you don’t need to make me feel guilty!’ I said feeling a little bit persecuted by this somewhat pompous giant arthropod.
‘Well, shouldn’t you?’ Beetle continued mercilessly,’ I mean what are you doing for other people who are less fortunate than you? Really, I mean, not just those charity donations? Take it from a beetle… Life is a struggle. You’re very, very lucky. So stop complaining.’
Now, this of course this “happened” in my head (well, lots of strange things happen in my head but I wouldn’t recommend you go there).
For the record though the beetle was kind of real – it was a female stag beetle I thankfully saw just in time to avoid treading on it during a run – and the conversation was one that went through my mind as I continued plodding on.
The beetle was engaged in a great journey, and her close shave with death was while she was in sight, finally, of its goal –that being the safe haven of the hedge on other side of the suburban road.
I guess for a beetle that journey is a bit like attempting the Pennine way -although on my one failed attempt at that I do not recall things trying to eat or squash me every step of the way so the analogy is a bit weak.
Incidentally stag beetles walk pretty slowly too, which may seem odd as they do have wings. But if you have ever seen one of these beetles trying to fly you will understand why it wants to walk, they are possibly the only animal that looks less comfortable in the air than a duck.
Life is hard when you are a beetle (as an aside, there seem to be a lot of stag beetles about this year which I think is not a bad thing at all for one of our most spectacular insects).
It was important for me to remember I am actually very lucky and blessed because the next day on my lunchtime run something went ping in my calf – I don’t know if it is a ligament or a muscle – and n practical terms it matters little.
All I knew was that the run was now over and would be for some time until, hopefully, it can heal completely. For me, it is a minor personal disaster. I have found running essential for my fitness and for peace of mind, nothing gets me out of a grump faster. Now that I cannot run at all for a while at least, I can feel the weight piling on and potential for getting increasingly irritable (sorry wonderful wife).
Hopefully it will heal quickly and I will at least be able to jog round the Great North Run in September this year, but any dreams of a fast time are out the window now.
But I fully hope to be back in working order in a few weeks and in the meantime be a lot less childish about this relatively little things that make life more interesting. I have a very good friend who may never walk again due to an accident and in that light any frustration I have has to be seen as petty complaining. I think for things that are upsetting you there are similar things that can also gently or violently ground you back in the true reality of things.
So I’m going to use that beetle as a reminder of how lucky I am. Which is entirely appropriate as stag beetle pace is about as fast as I can manage at the moment.