The archaeology of fish and chips

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Brighton – and all the pleasures of being human at the English seaside in July. The smell of vinegar on fish and chips. The sight of a hen party on the beach, L-plates and feather boas fluttering in the breeze. Seaside stalls selling kites and cheap beads. A cup of coffee, taken in a grounded boat outside the cafe. A ride on the carousel. A red flag against the sky warning DON’T SWIM. The voices of twenty different nationalities, all presumably saying ‘what the f**k happens now?’.

The infrastructure of our daily lives – the sewers, the culverts and viaducts, the things that make life physically comfortable – will survive. So will the big institutions of Brussels and London, if only as the foundations of their parliaments. They will leave a footprint on the way to some future Europe. But happiness is ephemeral, and so are most of the things that bring it. The archaeology of rambling in the Peak District, for instance, is pretty much non-existent. No trace of the walk in the Hope Valley I did with a friend on Tuesday evening, or the stories and confidences we exchanged on the way.

20160702_161858A seaside resort leaves more evidence, but not a lot. The crazy golf course might survive better than the famous pier, whose footings will one day be invisible under the surface of the sea. The bronze statue of athlete Steve Ovett will outlast me, but to be honest I didn’t notice it at first. The plastic lobster, on the other hand, was memorable and made me grin. It will not survive. If it does, it will be explained as a votive site for the Cult of the Lobster.

Often we interpolate what a culture was like from precisely those remnants which passed unnoticed by its people; the paving stones, the water supply. Pleasure, by contrast, leaves no trace. Perhaps that’s even in the nature of pleasure: happiness passes. But that’s okay. It comes back.

 

 

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