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Some things just never change.

From the evidence which they have uncovered so far, archaeologists believe that the site must have been a staging post on the original Roman road... a kind of ancient Roman motorway service station, if you like - Radio item.

Hello. As one pile of old stones tends to look very much like the next, I expect that many of you non-experts will be wondering how we archaeological specialists manage to interpret the tiniest fragments of chaos into hard scientific fact.

How do we understand where the ancient Romans headed to when they sloped away early on a Friday.

How can we know where they spent their Bank Holidays with the wife and kids in the back of the chariot in a line of other ancient Romans who weren't moving, that short of thing.

The first clue we dug up was actually this:

It's a large blue and white sign that says Welcome To Watfordum Gapp. Open XXIV Hours. No Gladiator Supporters.

We are standing, as a matter of fact, in a large open area and judging from the bits of broken taiights we found all over the place, and the painted arrows pointing in different directions at once, our expert opinion is that this was probably where the a ncient Romans used to park.

They would approach along this narrow track here, then miss the entrance, then try to get in through the exit, and then they would jump out and swear at one another.

We can imagine the scenes on a bustling Saturnalia weekend, can we not?

All around here would be itinerant windscreen cleaners, sellers of The Socialist Pict, blokes in peaked caps offering discounted membership of the AA with free tourist vouchers for a weekend in Eboracum thrown in, and so forth.

This scrap of papyrus, so we suspect, was probably pushed under the screen wipers of the ancient Roman's vehicle before he came back to it, and although there are fragments missing we are pretty sure that it refers to a stupendous sale of end-oange garde n furniture which is taking place that afternoon, and which he would be crazy to miss, take the next exit and turn left at the roundabout.

When we walk around the parking area several times we eventually find this single small door which leads, we are sure, into what was undoubtedly the selervice dining area.

How do we experts know this?

Because we found no trace whatsoever of any trays or teaspoons, although there were lots of knives and no forks, ashtrays which had not been emptied for a week, and small packets of what we thought was sugar but turned out to be salt when we put it in ou r coffee.

The ancient Romans, of course, were renowned for their exotic tastes, and a typical dish would have been something like this, which we unearthed recently.

It's a piece of fried cod. Remarkably preserved for its age, don't you think?

As a matter of fact I bought it on the M6 this morning, but we're pretty convinced it dates from the right period.

What else would the ancient Roman need at a service station? Exactly.

We found them up three flights of stairs, and marked by ornate plaques on the doors both showing figures in togas, so which was the Ladies and which the Gents was probably the subject of some debate, even among the ancients.

Any historian will tell you that the ancient Romans devised a system of hot-air heating, and in here we find the very earliest examples of hand-driers, all of them out of order.

At least that's what we deduce, since the washbasins are full of paper towels.

This example of fabric with distinctive shoe prints on it must have been, we are convinced, the roller towel.

On his way back to his vehicle, the ancient Roman would probably want to call into the selervice shop with its array of merchandise, such as plaster models of Hadrian's Wall with egg-timers attached, and I've Walked The Fosse Way stickers, and greatest h it collections from popular favourites such as Max Bygraves.

It wouldn't sell spare nuts for his chariot wheels, though, because there was no demand for them.

Finally, on his way out, he would pass a sign such as this, Veni Vidi Vici, or roughly speaking, Thank You For Calling, Have A Safe Onward Journey.

A ruin like this should be treasured as a valuable part of our national heritage, we feel, and indeed we would probably have no problems at all in getting Lottery money to fund its restoration, if it weren't for the fact that it's still open for business .
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Author:Ellam, Dennis
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 8, 1998
Words:777
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