I received the best ever out of office reply this week, from one of my international counterparts. The words, fairly innocuously, said “I am on annual leave, sailing in Croatia. I don’t have my laptop, and I’m out of reach of mobile phones”, but the meaning was quite clear –“I am on holiday, and I don’t care about anything else, so push off and leave me alone”. Great honesty!
My out of office when I was on holiday last week was suitably polite, but projects were never far from my mind even while I was away. We drove on motorways (projects), crossed the Forth Road Bridge (project), walked some of Hadrian’s Wall and visited Vindolanda (building projects in their time and archaeological projects now), travelled on four ferries (you’ve got the idea, now, haven’t you?), etc, etc
However, the two things that most amazed me were Skara Brae – a Neolithic village - on East Mainland and Quoyness Cairn – a burial site - on Sanday, both in Orkney.
If you thought that the Welsh had invented dressers, then think again – each of the eight houses in Skara Brae shares the same basic design - a large square room, with a central fireplace, a bed on either side and a shelved dresser on the wall opposite the doorway. You can’t walk inside the originals, they are too frail, but there is a reconstruction, and the place is instantly recognisable as a room in which people lived, and which it would be perfectly possible to start inhabiting again. You’d only need a digital telly for it to look like a minimalist studio flat from a “make-over “TV show. What’s equally clear is that there was a conscious plan behind the construction of each of the houses individually, and the settlement as a whole – I wonder if that makes it a programme with eight projects? – so I think we can claim this as evidence that the discipline of project management probably pre-dates the Pyramids at Giza (as does Skara Brae), and was clearly in use in the north of Scotland in 3,000 BC.
Quoyness Cairn presented the opportunity for quieter reflection. As you come upon it, after the 1 mile walk from the car park, it looks like nothing more than a seaside donkey’s straw hat. But when you crawl through the entrance tunnel (and I do mean that) and use the wind-up torches provided (free of charge, and not chained down – this is Orkney!) you get access to an outstanding Neolithic tomb, broadly contemporary with Skara Brae, with an astonishingly airy and magnificent central chamber, with six side cells, in which the remains of about 15 individuals were interred. Although it’s a restored building, you do get a glimpse of the skill and planning which must have gone into its construction. And, I have to say, it makes a wonderful final resting place (even though those originally buried are no longer there).
And then we went to a wedding in what must be one of the smallest register offices in the UK – it was the Sanday Registrar’s front room, it was midsummer’s day, but it was a bit chilly, so he’d lit the fire to make sure we didn’t get cold.....Tweet