Monday, August 31, 2009

Roman Holiday

I think its fair to say that my wife and I come from wholly different backgrounds when it comes to 'Things You Do on a Bank Holiday'. I was always allowed to play out for ages, or sit and watch some back-to-back kids films or, if it was sunny, go to the beach. My wife comes from what I cynically dub 'the school of enforced family fun' - you must go somewhere and do something, regardless!

So, with this in mind, I found myself bombing along the A68 (9?) from Newcastle to Corbridge at 10.30 in the morning, on the way to the Roman Fort site for a Roman History Day. Now many of you may know that I quite like my history, but Roman stuff simply doesn't do it for me. Its all a bit too distant and abstract for my liking. So, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of 'yet more rocks in the ground', after all, if I wanted to see them I could just pop along to Wallsend. Actually that might well be the source of my lack of interest in things Roman? Growing up in Newcastle, you become fairly dulled to (a) Romans, (b) Medieval Castles and (c) Christian Saints by the time you reach your teenage years.

So when I got there and was herded into a field to park by some perky English Heritage types, I was sceptical. Then I saw a horse, in barding. Not a stone horse, but a real one?! Things were looking up! I baulked slightly at the £20 entry fee - I wonder sometimes whether it would be easier to surrender and just buy an English Heritage membership - and entered a world of bacon and burger smells. Great. Just what I need on my diet!

And then things took a turn for the decidedly good. There was a large re-enactment crew doing weapon displays. Awesome. One guy did some sharp weapons stuff and then they did 'fights from the movies and how they are crap' and then they did a full of set of Romans vs Britons melees and then some horse riding and fighting displays. It was a full hour of entertainment and well worth sitting and watching. After that we had a picnic of sorts and then wandered around the exhibits for a while, which was all very nice and arty. We then checked out 'Boudica's Revolt ... with vegetables' on the assurance from the kids that it was awesome. Turns out that the guy that does this 'historical theatre with vegetable actors' has been on Brainiac: History Abuse and is therefore a minor kiddy celeb. It was very funny and a great way to get the story over to kids. Emma pottered around the textiles place doing some weaving whilst Lara and I chilled out in the ruins and then we saw a supposedly funny guy teaching us about how little we knew about physics and Roman technology.

This was actually the bit that really spoiled it for me, as he was so cleverer-than-thou about the entire affair that it actually became off-putting. The swordsman at the start scotched a few myths about fighting for people (for example, a gladius is a slashing weapon, not a stabbing weapon and the massive overacted spear stabs are indeed, massive and overacted as the spear was a swiping and slashing weapon) but he did it in a funny way. The technology guy was just all 'you think you know stuff, but really you know nothing and I know exactly what is what, ha!'

His main points seemed to be (a) the Romans invented very little but imported a lot from other parts of their empire (implying that 'What Did the Romans Do For Us?' should actually more accurately be called 'What Ideas Did the Romans Steal and Import into This Country and Blag Off as Their Own' and (b) if children have computers you are bad parents because they should be doing water pressure experiments instead or the world will end. The science bit was good but really, I could have done without the preaching that went along with it!

After that, we were tiring and there was an hour to kill before the missile combat display, so we decided to cut and run, heading back to civilisation. It was, in retrospect, a really good day out and great value for money between the four of us - about £1 each for each 'show'. I probably wouldn't bother doing it again, but as a one-off it was very pleasant.


Anonymous said...

That bit about the gladius contradicts everything, and I mean everything, I've read read/seen/heard/whatever about it.

It was two-edged and sharpened to a point to allow for versatility in its use but the primary tactic of the legion was to stab the opponent in the abdomen with it.


Vodkashok said...

Thats what the bloke said everyone thought and he said it was bollocks. It was all about the metallurgy of the sword. It cannot parry and stay sharp, It cannot handle shields very well and it cannot pierce armour. However, it can cut through stuff very effectively for very little effort. He did a display for us and everything to prove his point. Similarly he said that the spears were rarely used to stab, because thats actually quite hard and quite inefficient. Instead they sort of sliced them across the body and that was more than enough to disable someone.

(This is why I'm not that fussed about ancient history - when it comes to stuff like this there can be no definitive answer, unless we grab a Torchwood resurrection glove!)