The December competition was judged by Joan McGavin – poet, PhD student and former University of Winchester Creative Writing Lecturer.
The brief was to write a 300 word journal entry from an archaeologist who finds an artefact in a field on Christmas Day.
And the winners were:
First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by Barbara Needham
Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn
Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by Emma Latham
Highly Commended: Christmas Diary by Colin Johnson
Highly Commended: 25th December 2017 by Angela Chadwick
Colin Johnson (left) with speaker, Penny Ingham; first place winner, Barbara Needham; special guest, Joan McGavin and John Quinn.
Photo by David Eadsforth
First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by
‘This was a convincing account with a sympathetic archaeologist whose personal circumstances were economically presented. A very strong response to the challenge set.’
Strange Christmas. Second one without the children. My Ex’s turn this year. Wonder if she gave them their presents from me this morning? Damn her!
The French do things differently here. Christmas Eve is the great feast. 18 of us round the table last night. No idea how many courses or what I drank. Pierre and Marie-Christine wonderful hosts. For a time I forgot I was an absentee parent.
Work on the farm never stops. Joined Pierre early taking feed to the cattle. Don’t know how I got out of bed after all that wine. A murky morning, on what was the Western Front. Pierre is an expert on WW1 memorabilia. As a child he was fascinated by stuff turned up by the tractor – shells, bits of machine guns, gas masks, mugs, tin plates etc. I’ll always be grateful for his help on my book.
We walked together from the cattle sheds along a recently ploughed field. That’s when I spotted it. A small round rusty object poking through the soil. A quick wipe and we realised what it was – a German tunic button.
Maybe because it happened exactly 100 years ago today, imagination got in the way of hard evidence. We both knew the stories of that first Christmas truce. At midnight, guns fell silent and some of the Germans started singing Stille nacht, heilige nacht. Tommies replied by singing carols. In certain places both sides moved cautiously into no-man’s-land, shook hands and exchanged gifts – like cigarettes, spoons and tunic buttons!
Young men, far from home, many longing to see their children on Christmas Day.
Plus ça change as the French would say.
Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn
‘There’s a lot of humour here: in the narrator’s unconsciously revealed self-centeredness [and] in his wife’s irate note. Well done; you’ve written a funny and very readable piece.’
Diary, 25th December, Dorchester
This is the most remarkable day of my life! My discovery, in the grounds near the Old Roman Town House, confirms my theory and will change forever our understanding of the relationship between the British indigenous tribes and the Romans.
More importantly, it will crown me as the foremost commentator and Roman expert in the country! There is certainly a book, possibly a TV programme. Who knows, a series? I could be the media’s next history expert: a young David Starkey with a dash of Brian Cox. Why not, I’m not even 50 yet.
This is the culmination of a decade’s work and a lifetime’s experience. And everyone will remember I made the discovery on Christmas Day!
I arrived home from the dig to celebrate and tell my wife what her genius of a husband has achieved and what do I find? A glowing log fire, the enticing aroma of mulled wine and roast turkey? The metronomic wagging tail of a delighted Labrador and the gentle hiss of the Christmas pudding being steamed to perfection?
No! I receive the cold greeting of a scrawled note on the kitchen table. ‘Antony, you were born a selfish bastard and you will die one! I’m not, have never been and will never be a size 16! Not that you would ever know; you haven’t looked, let alone admired or caressed anything other than your own ego and old bloody artefacts for the last 15 years!
‘If it was another woman: fine! But I can’t compete with a cold, mud-filled excavation ditch and 2,500 years. Don’t try and contact me!
‘P.S. There’s a sandwich in the fridge.’
On the most wonderful day of my life, this is how she treats me. Some people are so self-centred!
Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by
‘I liked the way this entrant had done some research in tackling the challenge and incorporated the results seamlessly into the plot. Neatly done.’
Pouilly-Le-Fort, 25th December 2018
Just after sunrise: clear winter’s morning. Le Champ Maudi (The Cursed Field) next door to our gite. Walked the perimeter: the ditch contained the usual jumble of roofing tiles, a few broken bits of crockery, clay pipe head – Flemish?
Ran my eye slowly over the expanse of corrugated mud, sparkling with frost. A larger glint of reflected sunlight caught my attention. As I worked to free the object, I realised I was brushing soil from the brow of a skull, with a blue-green iridescent ‘pebble’ of glass lodged inside the eye socket; it’s rounded and frosted – blinded by the relentless action of time. As more glass was revealed, I had one of those spine-tingling moments. I’ve found a tear vial bottle – intact! I suspect it’s Holy Land, Roman Period, 1st Century AD. Fantastic – a once in a life time experience!
Sent photo to Dan Bones (osteologist at the museum) with query: Roman?
Punctured my thumb on a shard of bone which bled badly. I had to keep licking it, so returned to the gite for first aid.
By the time I got here, the kids were awake and Christmas Day was in full swing. Nancy dressed my thumb and persuaded me to stay put. I’ll go back to the dig tomorrow.
Dan emailed. He’s started his research – turns out we’re holidaying in the area where Pasteur performed vaccine experiments (1880s) on cattle infected with anthrax. Anthrax was so widespread that the abattoir on that field was closed down.
I’m turning in early. Feel freezing/generally lousy and my thumb is as swollen and red as a Boudin sausage.
Trembling, Nancy traced her index finger over her husband’s writing, then closed the tatty notebook, still unable to comprehend that these were his last words.
Highly Commended: Christmas Diary – by
‘The way you change the diarist’s attitude […] from the start of the entry to the end is clever. You use direct speech to good effect.’
25 Christmas Day
Blasted Mike called again. Today of all days! Every time he turns up a ring or a sovereign! Why can’t he just sell them to a dealer?
Says he’s found some Saxon coins in a field. Will I go and do a ‘proper’ excavation! If I dip out on Suzie and her kids she’ll be furious. But if Mike’s right…
Met Mike about 11. Early frost all gone. Thin sunlight glowed on the stubble as we crossed the field.
Seven shallow pits marked a pie slice on the ploughlines.
Mike raised one eyebrow. I said nothing.
“Look!” he said, his detector near the point of the slice. He showed me signals beneath the turned earth that could have been metal strips.
Deep to them was a solid reflective mass.
I held my breath. We looked at each other.
“What d’yer reckon?” asked Mike.
“Could be,” I breathed.
He held out the coins he’d found on Tuesday. His hand was shaking as I took them up one by one. Three or four mid-Saxon. The others unidentifiable, outside the lab.
He was right.
I could hear my heartbeat. My mouth was dry.
Today, an exploratory dig, confirm the find. Then come back next week with the cameras and the team.
We dug down to the rusted iron strips, like flaking leather straps. Carefully I brushed away the soil between them to expose the edge of a hard grey mass, like squashed-up Plasticene. A groove, maybe from the plough. I dusted off enough earth to confirm two more coins.
That’s when I told him. This will be called the Stockbridge Hoard.
Mike wanted me to be there, to share this with me. He’s a good friend!
Suzie tried to sound pleased when I told her.
Highly Commended: 25th December, 2017 – by
‘Deftly told and I very much liked the way you leave us with a mystery’
I woke well past my normal 7am start this morning, courtesy of Midnight Communion at the Cathedral. My dreams had been full of powerful organ music, candles and mystery so I was quite groggy.
Porridge for breakfast but in view of the festive season I added cranberries. Wendy called. She and the boys are well and had had a wonderful day. We said the normal stuff about being together next Christmas but we both know New Zealand is just too far.
Spent the morning preparing lunch. About two, I called Poppy and we headed out. I thought we might meet Doug and I was right. The dogs took off and we continued down the track. It was a good job I was wearing wellies because the ground was sodden. Note: it has poured almost every day for a fortnight.
We got to the little escarpment but it wasn’t there anymore. The ground had slipped. The path was gone, buried under earth.
I heard Doug’s sudden intake of breath. “What’s that?”, he pointed to the far end.
“Oh my God, you’re right” I said. “Come on, it could be a roman hoard!”
I could see coins, tarnished and worn, spilling down the slope and I scrabbled through the mud. I fell once or twice and got quite filthy.
“Yes!” I was jubilant!
I heard Doug panting behind me. “Not them,” he said. “That! I swear it’s an AK47! “
After that it got decidedly less exciting. The police arrived. They kept us there till gone dark. They shouted at us for contaminating their crime scene. The dogs were bored. We were cold. Eventually they let us go.
It was only later this evening, as I sipped my cocoa, that I thought, “Why were the roman coins on top of the gun?”