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Monday, 11 July 2016 10:37

Letter from London #25

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Recently discovered burial urn. Recently discovered burial urn.

East Hampshire

Cousin Ann arrived in best Miss Marple fashion on her bicycle late the other Saturday afternoon, in a state of some excitement.

A trained historian, she has been involved in the official archaeological investigation (‘dig’ as she would say) at a series of ancient burial mounds, or barrows, on a nearby heath.

That week the team had unearthed what is strongly believed to be an intact and complete Early to Middle Bronze Age burial urn - a find now being further investigated at a specialist unit in nearby Winchester.

It will not be the first of such discoveries, of course. But when it happens on your doorstep, and in a place that was until recently part of a golf course, it gives one pause. The urn is thought to be anything between 3,500 and 4,000 years old.


That means it was buried there, probably containing the ashes of an important local personage, from a period BEFORE the 10 Commandments were supposedly handed down to Moses, and BEFORE the Trojan War. Certainly, before Schliemann’s now generally accepted historical dating of the fall of Troy - and the accounts in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer that are regarded as the precursors of Western literature.

Overgrown bronze-age barrow*

It’s fair to say that a least half of Britain is still in a state of shock following the close-run referendum vote to leave the European Union.

Daze is now giving way to bafflement at the sheer complexity of what might be involved in leaving. The main leaders of the Leave campaign have already fallen by the wayside. And there is speculation that Parliament, which is quite heavily pro-Europe, will find it difficult to agree any necessary legislation. The visiting US Secretary of State, John Kerry, opined that the British vote to leave the European Union might never be implemented - which no doubt reflects the current administration’s wish that Britain should remain an EU member.

London voted decisively for Remain, and there has been idle talk of the capital going its own way on the matter. On the day of voting, the mood in London was quietly confident, with leaflets being handed out at tube stations and social media campaigns encouraging people to go to the polls. Only 65 miles away, however, from where I now write, the atmosphere was quite different, with customers and tellers in the local bank gossiping confidently about Leave winning.

As well as big regional differences there was, too, a generational split, with the young voting much more for staying in the EU. So I am considering getting a t-shirt printed with ‘Don’t Blame Me, I Voted Remain.’


When I started this column, I envisaged making some sort of lofty analogy between the discovery of the burial urn on the heath, which had lain undisturbed beneath the earth for 4,000 years, and the recent political upheavals. Something along the lines of the tiny fraction of human history that is represented by its civilised phase, and by recorded literature. This was in part prompted by the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the Church of England), averring that the referendum had exposed “cracks in the thin veneer of society.”

While these comments may be exaggerated, it’s true that for a few hotheads the result was an opportunity for some totally unacceptable jibes and baiting aimed at migrants. All the more reason why the principal reaction of many in my immediate circle is best defined as one of dismay and embarrassment. The EU is admittedly an institution often regarded with something approaching derision. But the lurking fear amongst us Remainers is that in leaving the EU we would be quitting something that has helped to hold the fabric of society together and, on the whole, encourages a more civilised approach to matters that concern all the peoples of Europe.

Meanwhile US columnists have been having a merry little old time at our expense. Among the pieces that caught my eye is this slightly painful historical perspective in the Washington Post: Brexit voters missed the lesson of 1776. My favourite so far however is British Lose Right to Claim That Americans are Dumber in The New Yorker. To which one wag over here replied: “Not if they elect Donald Trump.”

~Edwin Riddell

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