In The Holidays

Entry by: percypop

3rd July 2015
Helen never enjoyed holidays. It seemed to her a waste of money when you had no one to go with. The hotels charged more for single rooms and then there was the ordeal of sitting alone at dinner pretending to read a book.
Her mother always went on about it:
"Why don't you join a singles club or something? Get out a bit or ask somebody from the office to go with you?"
Every year the same pitch.
Helen asked herself; "Who would want to go away with others from an auditor's office, where no one speaks to each other and most people work staggered hours?"
She ignored her mother but at the back of her mind a nagging whisper told her she could be wasting away. At thirty seven, her thin figure and wispy hair did not attract much attention and she felt easy that way. Living at home with mother had become a comfort zone and it was so simple to subside into a routine where any effort seemed tiresome.
One morning on her way to work, she browsed through the Metro free paper which she usually picked up at Clapham Junction and one item caught her eye.

"New dig at Pompeii reveals hidden treasures." The article went on to explain that some Italian archaeologists found a "new" villa on the site of the well-known excavation. The summer ended soon; they were looking for volunteers at once. Joining a team to work urgently, appealed to her.

The fact it involved unglamorous circumstances also had its attraction, since no one would be making judgements based on her appearance or age. On impulse, she looked up the society on the Web and emailed an application to join the dig. A day later, a call came through from the Director of the Organisation, in London, asking her whether she could join the dig as soon as possible. She put in for leave at once and agreed to fly out to Naples with the first available flight.

Easy-jet to Naples took two hours, and landing in bright sunshine was a delight after the grey world of work-day London. Taking a bus from the airport direct to the district nearest to Pompeii, she saw, standing at the bus station, a dark-skinned man, wearing a floppy straw hat with pieces missing as if nibbled by a friendly mouse.
"Good Morning Signorina," he doffed his hat, "welcome to Italy, my name is Giorgio"
He took her small suitcase and showed her to the pensione which the team used while the dig was in operation. In the garden shaded by a pergola draped with vines, a long table, lined with chattering companions, stretched out laden with baskets of fruit and bread and food.
"You must try our vino." Said a young student and he smiled warmly as he poured a glass for her. The wine was in bottles, like the lemonade bottles of years ago, the stoppers attached by a spring device so they could be refilled time and again.

Giorgio introduced her as "Elena," she felt at ease with her new name and sat down in a row of chattering people, young and old. Turning to a young girl sitting beside her,
she asked "Is it very hard work?"
The girl laughed and shook her head.
"Not compared with the Pyramids!"
It felt good to be a member of the team and soon she joined in the general banter.
She learnt much about the techniques and routines of the survey. Led by a Dottorre "Silvio," she given different tasks each day. Hard work in the strong sunlight was too much for her but she enjoyed the delicate cleaning (in the shade) of the shards and fragments of mosaic which were uncovered every day.

Within a week, she had come up with an idea to improve the work.
"Silvio, can I try something with the system of collating items?"
His response was unenthusiastic.
"Why you want to do this? He asked
"You not care for the hard work?"
He smiled to mitigate the implied criticism;
"The index is very large and the documents are in difficult condition."
Helen laughed at his remark;

“Difficult? I'd say shambolic!" And she regretted the comment at once, when she saw its effect on the distinguished "Dottore." "I just meant, perhaps a new system could make life simpler. Of course, the cataloguing is fine."
Silvio sniffed and scratched his chin,
"Well, Elena, you can look at the Samian Shards listing –it was a medley of broken clay pieces recently recovered-I have not yet had time to organize the finds."

Helen leapt at the task like a greyhound! No one knew of her auditing experience, she had hidden it from the group, believing it would be too boring to tell.

Taking time out to visit Naples, it was an easy matter to buy a software programme, adapt it, and catalogue all the new finds. She showed the programme to one of the team.
"You see, anyone can work the system and find an item instantly."

The idea appealed to the whole team immediately.

Silvio raised his glass at supper: "No one has a magic touch like our Elena."
A mighty cheer rose from the diners.

"We were children at play before she whipped us into class." A shout of laughter greeted this.

"When I publish our results, Instituto Romano and The British Museo will tremble with envy!”
Blushing, she shared her pleasure with the friends who teased her. At last, she had found happiness and a thirst for improvement.

Giorgio drove her to the airport when the dig was over. He lifted his battered hat and gave her a loud kiss on the cheek. "Arivederci Signora Elena." She realized her status had been elevated.

Her mother met her at Gatwick.

"Your uncle Frank is ill and cousin Charlie can't cope on his own."
Helen smiled at her.
"Poor Charlie, he'll have to try won't he?

She enrolled in a degree course at the University as a senior student. Eight years on, Professor Helen Williams led a team investigating new material at Herculaneum; her academic reputation established with every university.

Every job, every trip, was a holiday.