30 October 2012

The Cambridgeshire fieldwork: the social aspect

One measures the success of a fieldwork on how well its scientific objectives were met. But how one looks back at it depends more on the social aspect. Fieldwork often means long days of hard work with a small group of people. And when the work is done you spend your leisure time with the same people. It’s not hard to imagine how that can go either very well or very wrong. And with the Durham-Plymouth sea level team it always goes very well. So I looked forward to this fieldwork, even though it was in unspectacular Peterborough. And then it almost didn’t happen.

We thought that Peterborough wouldn’t be that much of a sought-after destination in late October. But when we tried to book accommodation, we realised we were wrong. Everything was booked up! And we are quite specific: we want a self-catering cottage; not only because cooking ourselves keeps the cost down, but also because we use the kitchen as an improvised lab. We really want to be able to check our sediments in the evening. And in a hotel room that can be a bit of a challenge.

When we were already despairing, Tasha found a place in Nassington, just west of Peterborough. We just couldn’t book it for the full period we had kept free in our diary. The day was saved!

The cottage turned out to be quite nice. Not too social on a larger scale; there was hardly any phone signal, and the internet connection was rather slow too. It was fast enough, though, to show each other geeky Youtube videos on the first night; Tasha and I were quite impressed by the scientific Lady Gaga parody. But the big hit of the night was a LMFAO spoof (not the NASA one): the Fossil Rock anthem. It would turn out to be very inspirational...

The kitchen of the cottage provided a stage for culinary excellence; since we had brought Rob along on the last Isle of Wight fieldwork, the standard of cooking hadn’t been the same. This trip the menu included chicken and leek pie, stew, and risotto. Very good! But the kitchen had more uses; it functioned well as an improvised lab. Plenty of space for two microscopes, and an assortment of beakers and sieves.

Butternut squash, spinach and goat's cheese risotto: not bad at all!

The social aspect of a fieldwork does not only involve the living and cooking together; the work itself also has a strong social component. Coring is team work; it takes two to lift the heavy percussion unit onto the core barrel, and it takes three (it can be done with two, but that’s both hard and risky!) to jack the barrel out again. Sampling a core also takes two. And the better we work together, the nicer it all is. We were used to coring with four, but that does involve quite some standing around. With three, we soon were a well-oiled war machine. And the well-oiled was evident in how smoothly we worked, but it also was a bit more literal than it should have been: the corer drooled oil wherever it went. And Tasha and Antony don’t tend to wear gloves. And this time, our coring moves were spiced up by increasingly skilful renditions of the “fossil rocks” dance. Every day I’m shovellin’...

The drill and its excretions

And where all that oil ends up

The coring is quite heavy work; all the material is heavy, and this time the sediments were stiff, and really hard to get out of the barrel. And on top of that, it was late October. That can be quite cold. So after a day spent coring in a windy field one has deserved a snifter. The first evening we just enjoyed a drink in the cottage, but the following days we tried two pubs. On the first day of coring Harry, the local expert, visited us in the field, and suggested going for a pint when the work was done. He suggested some barge-turned-pub; we were quite obliging. It turned out to be a good suggestion! It was a nice pub, with nice beers. The next day we wanted to visit a pub in Nassington itself; it boasted a history going back to 1674, and that caught our attention. It turned out that quite many of the visitors’ history didn’t even go back a decade. Quite a noisy pub! But we didn’t want to stay long anyway; Tasha had prepared a stew in the morning, and it was waiting for us in the oven. We wanted to get back before it would boil dry and start billowing smoke!
The barge annex pub in Peterborough

The barge on the inside

The ancient pub at the edge of Nassington

On Saturday we wanted to go for dinner; our kitchen crew deserved a day off. The pub we had our eyes on, though, didn’t have space for us, so we decided to postpone that event to the next day; on Sunday restaurants would likely be less busy. So that day we got out of the field in time, had a wash, and tried our luck. Our thought of absence of crowds in the restaurants proved true; unfortunately, that also had something to do with the Nassington pubs not serving food on a Sunday. We instead had a pint in the first pub. And then one in the other one. One has to be sure, right? On departure, Antony and I did the shovellin’ dance for Tasha, and then we were ready to head home, for an improvised dinner of whatever-was-left-in-the-fridge. Somewhere along the road, where we passed a church, Tasha shouted: “there’s a benchmark here!” So we all ran like madmen to it. We didn’t find a benchmark. We did find a slug. And a badger. Scientists always serious? Nah…

The pub where we would have liked to have a meal

Even though it wasn’t how we had envisaged it, it turned out to be a worthy last night. We had beer, we had Spotify, and Antony turned out to be the master of improvised food. His chicken and leek pie had not used up all the puff pastry, and there was pesto, tomatoes and cheese: that means pizza! He even managed to make a lovely dish out of rice, celery, and some more tomato and cheese. His attempt at a dessert was somewhat less fortunate; oatcakes and strawberry yoghurt may look fine together, but somehow the flavours don’t blend very well. But who cares! In good spirits we started packing the microscopes and what came with it after dinner. The fieldwork was over…

Unexpected pizza

If you ask people if they want to spend their time handling a smelly, noisy, heavy percussive drill in a neglected Peterborough field in late October, the response may not be all too positive. But if done with such company, it is so much fun it makes one look back in nostalgia! Where shall we go next? I’ll practice my dance moves…

No comments: