It all started with Perpetua's suggestion that Eileen had missed out on the archaeology of the posters on Church notice boards. I saw Eileen's eyes lit up as she headed for me this lunchtime, threw me in her Porsche Cayenne and took me on a terrifying tour of the churches of mid-Bedfordshire.
Eventually she found what she had been looking for. A church notice board that could be accessed easily, even equipped with Young Keith's patented "Church-notice-strata-ometer". This is, to be fair,and ingenious machine. Using a combination of infra-red, X-rays and Magnetic Resonance, it can give us a three-dimensional view of the layers of notices pinned to a notice board, without taking the terrible risk of pulling out the drawing pins to see what is under there. Vital historical evidence can be lost in the event of a catastrophic "board-alanche", and that is not even to mention the danger of contamination from Plague spores in the lower levels.
The disadvantages of the Church-notice-strata-ometer are, however, twofold. Firstly, that it emits large amounts of radiation. Secondly, that it takes five hours to scan a complete notice-board, but requires constant small changes to the calibration - necessitating that the operator stand out in the damp and cold throughout the complete operation. As Eileen said, "that's why I brought you along." And then she was off to Flitwick to throne stones through the window of a former love-interest, leaving me to get the results.
I have to confess, however, that the machine does a fantastic job. This is the notice board, as visible to the naked eye:
The layers of history held within the notice board are invisible to the casual observer. If we look more closely, we may wonder how so much paper is held onto the board with just six drawing pins.
However, if we turn the notice board on its virtual side, and show you through the layers of the notices, you can see the way in which the history of the church is preserved in its papery strata - the lowest levels already merging into a form of mudstone, as the damp of the centuries permeates the paper.
We did make a couple of revolutionary discoveries. The first was the sheer depth of the "Oxford Movement" layer, as Evangelicals posted a whole series of responses to the Anglo-Catholic "Tracts for our times". The notices requesting able-bodied men for the 100 Years War made sobering reading. And the declarations of the victories at Waterloo and Trafalgar still seem to be remarkably well-preserved.
There is a clue as to a strong difference of opinion between the Evangelical and Liberal groups in the 1980s. The 1984 Mission England poster has clearly been pulled down at least once - the rip showing where the drawing pin initially went through it - and patched up with Sellotape.
The changing method of hastily communication is vividly demonstrated. From the 80s onwards we have evidence of the "Post-it Note Culture" - yellow sticky squares asking for volunteers, or insulting the vicar. Whereas we saw, in the 1540s, little notes saying "Henry VIII is fat", and "Give us back our monasteries."
As I say, despite the radical historical advances we have made, I am not happy. I am soaking wet. I am freezing cold. I have been dangerously irradiated. And I am deeply frustrated. Between the 11th and 12th centuries, there is a page from the treasurer's report. And it reads as follows:
Outlaie on ye vvine: xlix groattes
Outlaie on ye broot: xxii groattes
Ye totalle broot and vvine: lxxiii groattes
Dear Readers, how can I sleep tonight? Such a terrible, simple arithmetical error. And there is nothing I can do about it! Truly they were the Dark Ages.