The British make a mean museum but their food is for Philistines
We were the sole time-travellers in a snowy British Iron Age village, reconstructed a thousand years on, deep in the South Downs.
To liven matters up, we followed a string of questions pinned around the place on poles and sealed in plastic bank bags against the weather. Number One: Why didn’t Iron Age houses have chimneys? We knew that. So that the smoke would kill the insects living in the wooden frame, we wrote on our clipboard. We’d seen it at Shakaland.
Inside a round hut, a cloak-clad, clasp-necked Iron Age woman was making what she called ‘honey cakes’ on a small cordoned-off fire, the only warm spot on the farm.
The museum had only re-opened that day after the winter break and many of these worthy folk were donning their ancient blankets for the first time. We Saffers were able to fill them in on a few of the more confusing details. Number Two: What was that wooden rack arrangement for, next to the gate? Drying out cereal crops, we said.
How did the Iron Age inhabitants stop the contents of the pit latrines smelling? Well, we weren’t going there.
In a field behind us stood an alien-like creature. PREGNANT WOMEN ARE ADVISED NOT TO TOUCH THE SHEEP read the sign, not surprisingly. This was one horny sheep, struggling to extricate its four-horned head from the fence.
Apparently the Manx Laughton was a very popular breed in the first century AD – how do they know this stuff? – but then there would have been no fences to tangle in.
Disappointed by the ashy pastiness of the Iron Age snacks, we retreated to the modern world and a Starbucks on the London-Portsmouth road for a coffee and a dodgy doughnut.
Take me back to the world of mead and burnt honey cakes, I thought. Overhead, stripes of cloud striated the cold white sky and it began to snow heavily.
The next day at Legoland, while the buildings were more up-to-date, they were obviously much smaller. Passing fleetingly through a Lilliputian London, we watched a miniature band march across Horse Guards Parade as a diminutive limo drove repeatedly around the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus.
“A celebrity,” predicted a wise young onlooker.
Moments later, in this micro-world, we witnessed the countdown to a Space Shuttle launch at NASA while, just around the corner, a Dutch barge floated down a windmill-lined canal.
Further down the trail, a life-size but inert elephant squirted water exactly every twenty seconds at chilly children passing in rowing boats on an ankle-deep canal. And look, there was a crocodile eating a fisherman! And then spitting him out and eating him again. And again.
A knight in chainmail stood motionless on a nearby hillock. St George, ready to take on the fire-breathing dragon in the castle just east of the Pyramids beyond the Viking waterslides? Did Vikings really have waterslides? Tricky in a long boat.
The snow started again. Taking refuge in a burger joint, the only food outlet on offer, we watched the occasional frozen enthusiast hurtling down the Pirate Falls Dynamite Drench.
The food would have been tastier had it, like everything else that day, been made of Lego.
The British have mastered the detailed re-creation of everything from early history to the London Eye, not to mention space exploration. And a flurry of snow’s not putting them off.
But they still can’t make a honey cake or a burger? So, little progress on the cooking front since Alfred the Great burnt his cakes just after his scrap with that well-known water-sliding Viking Ivar the Boneless at the end of the real Iron Age?