Sunday, 21 April 2013

Soldiers Pay

A scale model of what Fishbourne Roman Palace may have looked like
During a sunny weekend away for my mum's birthday I found myself in Fishbourne Roman Palace.  A large estate, with many mosaic floors, a few graves, some plaster, a replica garden, but, due to the value of stone after the palace burned down, no walls.  This ancient act of theft turned out quite lucky for our tour guide, as the spaces where the walls where have been filled in with modern concrete and turned into special walkways for him to traverse the site on, while the rest of us untrusted public had to remain behind little barriers and look at small informational plaques.

Like many of these places where the remains of places of historic interest[1] are found, along with the historic find, a load of ancillary stuff has sprung up to make a visit a fun trip for all the family - a research facility with separate tour, a scale replica model of what the original site might have looked like (along with a ship placed in a now-known-to-be impossible shoreline), a museum, and (everyone's favourite!) a little shop!

A small self-indulgent digression, if I may.  I, like so many others, have a bad habit of collecting things.  Over time what I collect varies, but there is usually some class of thing (or sometimes, to the detriment of my bank balance, things) that I will irrationally want to acquire more of.  Also, interestingly, most of these collections can be fuelled by tat that is offered up in the little shops that support historically interesting sites.  Growing up it was glass marbles.  When they were lost I built up a massive collection of keyrings and keyfobs.  Much later, after finishing my degree, it was decks of playing cards.  Now, my fetish-de-jour seems to be acquiring dice games.  The collection is currently small, comprising Zombie Dice (plus expansion) and three sets of Rory's Story Cubes, but the Fishbourne shop presented the opportunity to buy "Tabvla" -- a Roman predecessor to backgammon played with three dice -- and I could hardly refuse such a generous offer for five quid.

An arch kit to keep kids (of all ages) amused :)
The museum at Fishbourne was well worth a look round.  For kids (henceforth classified as those under 30 years of age) there were practical things to do, such as building a Roman arch from lurid pink blocks and weaving bits of ribbon on some dodgy wooden contraption held together with string.  However one thing that really urked me was an informational board adorned with the title "Soldiers Pay".  It described how much a Roman soldier would earn, what they could or would likely spend it on, and their career prospects.  However I couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong with this title.  Now I'm not about to turn into Lynne Truss on apostrophes -- my command of the little blighters is not one to be envied[2] -- but in my gut I feel like there should be one somewhere as there is some notion of ownership going on.  "A solider's pay", or "Soliders' pay", or somesuch.  "Soldiers pay" reads to me as though the soldiers in the Roman army had to pay for something.  I'm pretty sure I'm right in claiming this is at least ambiguous?

Anyway, I have a hard time letting irritating little things like this go, and over a burger at Byrons with a friend, I started to relate this tale of possible ambiguous apostrophe abuse.  However my diatribe was distracted when I noticed our waitresses' T-Shirt. "Today's special".  'You are or it is?' I thought better of asking when she asked us if everything was all right.  Looking round, the male waiters were instead decorated with the singular "medium".  The possible ambiguities here are great - cooked meat preference?  t-shirt size? or perhaps a secondary job skill that could provide hours of out-of-this-world tableside amusement during dessert?  I ordered a mint tea instead of finding out, shame on me.

[1] The importance of Fishbourne in Roman times is actually pretty unknown.  A rather interesting question posed by my father revealed that there no known written references to Fishbourne (as in, the Roman name for the location is unknown), despite it being (currently) unique in terms of size and scale in Britain.

[2] The number of its v.s. it's mistakes in my Ph.D. thesis was almost legendary.