Pomona Poste came down to breakfast a little after nine to find the farmhouse utterly deserted, save for a muttering from behind Aunt Awenna Threefold's bedroom door, which she had never so far seen opened. It sounded like: "I saw somethin' NARSTY inna Museum...". Making her way downstairs to the kitchen, she replaced the kettle on the Aga and made a pot of her precious recaffeinated coffee she had thought to bring with her.
Not liking the look of anything in the cupboards, Pomona was idly flicking through her copy of British Archaeology and waiting for her coffee to cool, when the door banged open and Amairghin Starkadder stomped in and sat down heavily, glaring at her across the table. Pomona affected not to notice.
A silence ensued, as of the brooding tension between the waiting, round-bellied earth and the burgeoning, ballooning thunderclouded sky in the heat of late harvesting.
"I ha' scranletted a' the way down from Cursus Acre up to Barrowight Hill," said Amairghin Starkadder eventually.
"Did you, really?" Pomona exclaimed, wondering what on earth scranletting was.
A longer silence followed, broken only by Amairghin munching his way through a bowl of ayurvedic museli.
Pomona sipped her coffee, and perused an article on a neolithic burial of someone who had been shot full of arrows who they were calling The Boscombe Bowman. Finally Amairghin pushed the bowl away from him for Ash Mistcalf the hired man, to 'cletter', as they called it, and began to roll a spliff.
"Ar." He said, affirmatively. Then, after a pause: "Could you a' done that?"
Pomona looked up from her article. "No, Cousin Amairghin, I'm sure I couldn't - and I wouldn't want to, anyway."
'Ar". Amairghin snorted. "I 'spec' you wouldn't, neither. Rather get a site supervisor in, I reckon you would, from Wessex Archaeology, an' a whole team o' diggers. Or maybe they Time Team fellers an' camera crews, an' suchlike."
Amairghin shuddered, then lit up. Then he resumed:
"Hear me, Cousin Pomona - I ha' nursed this sacred landscape like a sick mommet, man an' boy, these thirty year or more. Many's the round barrow I ha' scranletted over, an' many's the Bronze Age burial urn I've re-cremated." He blew a long cloud of green smoke across the table, as if to illustrate.
Pomona did her best to dissemble her mounting sense of horror. These Wiltshire Starkadders were even worse, more backward and ignorant, than her other cousins the Sussex Starkadders that Great Aunt Flora had told her about, before she had reformed them all with what she called The Higher Common Sense. Here they were, scranletting - was that a metal detector by the door, next to Cousin Amairghin's
wellingtons? - prehistoric artefacts on Coldharbour Plain, and - well - destroying them!
"Haven't you heard of The Portable Antiquities Scheme?" Pomona asked.
Amairghin's eyes narrowed. "Oh, ar. We don' 'ave nuthin' to do with he. Bronze Age bones is for re-cremation, to send 'un back to uns rest, an' their jewellery - well - 'tes ours, ain't it?"
"Yours?!" Pomona declined the spliff Amairghin held out to her, with a wave of her hand. "Don't you think they belong to everybody?"
"Nah. Course not. They'm our ancestors, up Barrowight Hill, look. They's always been Starkadders on Coldharbour Plain. So the gold torcs and amber beads an' copper alloy bracelets, is our heirlooms. Nobody else's. Not for folk to gawk at in no museum. 'Twould be flyin' in the face o' the ancestors. 'Tes disrespectful.
Amarirghin's brow furrowed in thought as he took another toke. "See here, Cousin Pomona. You'm Robyn Poste's child. You wouldn' sift her ashes out o' the bed o' the River Awen an' put 'em in a peepshow, would you? But you wears her old pentacle. No. 'Tes disrespectful, to do anythin' diff'rent. Jewellery belongs in the family."
Pomona forced a cheery smile at her eldest cousin. "Well, Cousin Amairghin, I certainly don't want your portable antiquities, and I'm not qualified to say how you should farm your land -"
"- sacred landscape," Amairghin interrupted.
"- how to look after your sacred landscape, but just think - if Uncle Dagda were to - go off on a long lecture tour - a very long, international lecture tour - about Honouring The Ancestral Dead, don't you see - the Sarsen Grove round the farm would be yours to - er - scranlett - as much as you liked. In Uncle Dagda's absence, there needn't be another Hereditary Chief Archdruid of Wiltshire."
Amairghin's eyes blazed and his saturnine face split open in a wide, toothy grin. He lurched forward, and seized Pomona's hand. "By the Goddess, Cousin Pomona, I misjudged yer! Would you - could you - talk to the old man about it? He'd never listen to me, but you -" and his voice tailed off as he sat back, drew a long lungful of weed and slowly exhaled, his ruddy countenance beaming like a child's as he
reflected on the possibilities of Pomona's suggestion.
"I'll go and talk to him this minute if you like, said Pomona. "Where would he be this morning?"
"Away with the Quivering Aspen Grove over at Herne Abbot's, picketing they television fashionistas who be feminizing the Long Giant for a wimmin's underwear documentary."
"I'll take the Range Rover, then," said Pomona over her shoulder as she made for the door. "And by the way, Amairghin - a struggling British farmer on an SMR-listed site can make a lot of money out of portable antiquities. More than the Ministry of Defence pays you for scranletting up unexploded bombs. And much more than DEFRA pay you for not immunising your cows against bovine TB. You might even be able to afford to grow some food. "
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Readers wishing to know about the adventures of Flora Poste among the Starkadders of Sussex might want to read the very great Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, of which I and the author of the above are both devoted fans.