Late 6th-century celebrity chefs as seen through Channel Four's Whatifoscope
Ian Martin finds the venue ‘where noblefolk may eat and quaff, though up alot they needs must cough’
MONDAY. The recent discovery of the Tamworth Hoard offers us a tantalising glimpse into the world of Anglo-Saxon culture, reaching back through history to a time when there was literally nothing to watch on TV.
Such dazzling artefacts! Buried as loot in the 7th Century, harvested as treasure by some fat charmless bloke with a metal detector in the 21st, they offer a melancholy insight into a vanished world of political and artistic correctness. This is how we all might be living to this day, had treacherous Wessex and bastard Anglia not done a Murdoch on us and turned Mercia into the BSB of English kingdoms.
I’m spending a few days at Tamworth Museum of Antiquities, studying this glittering haul in the company of psychaeologists, psystorians and my curator friend Benny Waterford, who likes a drink. The deeper we delve, the more our own society seems to be refracted through the hoard, sequestered by the Dark Ages equivalent of a hedge fund manager. They symbolise a world ruled by wealth and paranoia and envy and middle class aspirations and then Benny looks at his watch and asks if anyone fancies a pint.
TUESDAY.The inventory begins with a large fragment of ornamental glass vase, spit-blown in a regional designer goods outlet, probably in the late 6th Century. Such vessels were de rigeur in the households of the Middle England smart set, and are mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles: ‘Then - aye! - throughout ye land were seen…in house of harper and of queen…such trinkets silver, bronze and golden…dried twigs in vases huge beholden…’
Amazing: we run the data through a special machine called a Channel Four Whatifoscope and after a speculative working lunch it ‘builds up a picture’ of how the twig vase might have looked in context. Stupidly, Benny forgot to enter a century. The reconstructed twig display is contextualised in a contemporary buy-to-let Manchester nanoflat, part of a massive canalside development called The Bluff or The Buzz or The Hub or some such bollocks.
WEDNESDAY. Today we’re studying sections of silver plate, possibly from the dining room of an ancient Mercian award-winning restaurant. Celebrity chefs were enormously popular in the 7th Century, creating eclectic fusions of ethnic and experimental cuisines ‘where noblefolk may eat and quaff, though up a lot they needs must cough’.
We run it through the Whatifoscope. It postulates a rural gastropub lorded over by some irritating showoff with a very chewy name.
THURSDAY. Intriguing fragment of gold plate featuring a zoomorphic design: two fat cats linked by a fat snake devouring itself, and them. This is thought to have formed part of a crest or corporate logo for one of the many Private Finance Initiatives that flourished under Frothblair the Shit, a religious warlord based in the South Kingdom.
His redefinition of ‘ye public realm’ is chronicled: ‘Then Frothblair stood before his thanes and gave thanks to Almighty God. Henceforth would all public property, lands, meres, fens and cetera be under ye custody of Gold-Danes, all tax & rents by them received in exchange for new hospices, raid-ways and affordyble dwellings, under lease to Mercian subjects, whose tax & rents thus described ye perfect cyrcle. When disquiet filled ye land and Frothblair fled, his throne then passed to Clunkenfyst, who died anon…’
FRIDAY. Of course, 7th Century Mercia was mired in endless internecine wars on Terror. An ‘axis of evil’ had already been identified, linking enigmatic Arabia with the equally mysterious Land Below Watford.
One of the Tamworth Hoard items is a scabbard boss fitting with millefiori stud on a ceremonial base of gold and garnet. There is a Biblical inscription in poor Latin: ‘Rise up O Lord & may our enemies & civil liberties be dispersed, & may our public buildings be like unto fortresses’.
SATURDAY.The most common find is catalogued as ‘lump of soft earth eliciting a response from a metal detector, to be X-rayed’. This offers perhaps the most compelling link between 7th and 21st Century cultures, as the forensic appeal of undifferentiated material wealth in the form of disposable lumps is as attractive now as it was then.
SUNDAY. Back home. Reflections in the recliner. How pessimistic the Anglo-Saxon mindset now seems, particularly in the early 8th Century when everyone knew the fucking Tories would get back in.