Life After Lucy: Gill Heyworth

by Gill Heyworth on 28 February 2017


Gill Heyworth
Archaeology & Anthropology 1981 – 1984

It is nearly 40 years since I graduated and I find that my fondness and memories of Lucy and Cambridge are even stronger. I visited College recently to discuss my wish to leave all my books to the LC Library when I die and as I was shown all the new college buildings, the sophisticated Library and IT facilities and the wonderful garden I thought about all the fun and help I received when I was there. I worried then about whether I would be able to keep up – bearing in mind some of the greatest brains go to Cambridge - but I did and the things that caused me most concern were: finding somewhere to park the car; and negotiating busy Cambridge streets on my bike, with my LC scarf flying and wearing culottes, with no helmet. I still ride my bike in rural France, but now I wear a helmet and the bike has electrical assistance which is great for going up hills! I also remember I used to attend “Practicals” and leave my youngest, then 3 years old, with my friends in college; they fed him cake and raced about the garden with him. The other two, aged 5 & 7 had been picked up from school by a friend and given tea and looked after until I got home.

Gill HeyworthI visited Budapest to do my dissertation of Iron Age Fuzebony pottery- the tell site was in someone’s garden and we were chased away after taking photos. Last year we visited Budapest again and although I remembered the Elizabeth Bridge and Buda – a lot had changed. I worked for a while on Somerset Levels material for Professor John Cole and remember packing up lumps of peat and wrapping them up in bubble wrap and sending them off all round the world for carbon dating – did I really DO that? I ran the Young Archaeologists in Cambridge for a while and we went out to Great Wilbraham and did some work on the graveyard at St Nicholas’s church. We buried rubbish and made maps of where everything was and returned and dug it up later to see how it had moved. We buried broken cups and plates and then “excavated” them to put them together again. I hope Young Archaeologists is still going as it was fantastic fun.

When we moved to London I worked for the Council for British Archaeology and replied to all the letters that people wrote in asking for information on clubs and digs and school projects – all typed individually and with no web sites to find the information! I actually wasn’t a very good archaeologist, but Cambridge did provide the spark that led me to a lifetimes interest in politics. One night I attended a speech by David Owen at the start of the SDP – I had no idea how politics was organised but we started a small branch in Great Wilbraham and it thrived – what a steep learning curve.

I continued to work in politics at local level – I have stood for local councils occasionally, but what I really loved was organising – so I was Rosie Barnes’s Campaign Manager in 1992 and then moved to the Labour Party (the SDP merged with the Liberals then) and was Campaign Manager for Margaret Hodge, Andrew Slaughter and Mike Gapes and as part of the team for the European Elections. In Northern Ireland I joined the SDLP and was involved in Training and Development. I still remember working 24 hours on May 1st 1997 when Tony Blair entered Downing Street. Although we live in France I am learning about French politics and European politics generally and was riveted by the recent American Elections. At least the US can vote Trump out after 4 years – the UK has got Brexit forever, unfortunately. I am still a paid up member of the Labour Party!

Lucy gave me the confidence to run my own business for 6 years and to make speeches at events and conferences and I guess to move to Northern Ireland and from there to live in France permanently since 2008. So although I say we are retired and I make fig chutney, garden and grow vegetables, there is still a lot of discovering in our lives. When we retired we decided to have a “gap year” because neither my husband nor I went to university at 18 and gap years didn’t exist anyway, so over the last 10 years we have done 52 weeks long haul travel, mainly with an Archaeological or Anthropological theme. We have walked along the Great Wall of China and in Beijing visited hutongs (the traditional Chinese family houses) and watched them being demolished. We have visited amazing temples in India and learnt about Hinduism from local people. In Vietnam, we went underground in the Cu Chi Tunnels – specially widened for western tourists and then travelled on the Reunification Railway and visited Laos, Cambodia, both war torn and countries that we never thought we would ever get to. In Myanmar we visited Bagan and saw hundreds of 11th century pagodas and mourned the latest earthquake and the fact that archaeology comes way down their list of priorities. In Mexico and Guatemala, we followed the Mayan peoples through their temples (Chichen Itza and Palenque) and their medicine, culture and religion, an amazing mix of Mayan and Catholicism. In Chile, we travelled from Santiago to San Pedro on a bus and saw deserted railways at Baquedano and graveyards at Humberstone in the middle of nowhere, left over from the nitrate industry. Last year journeying from Bangkok to Bali overland we visited temples, pagodas, mosques, churches and in Malacca saw them all together. Of course, this has not been an academic exercise, but still absolutely fascinating and I wouldn’t have known half of it if I hadn’t studied archaeology. Next year it’s Australia and New Zealand, both for family reasons, but we will get to visit Uluru and spend time learning about the Aboriginal peoples.

Throughout all these trips I have been reminded of two things: the kindness of strangers and that more unites different peoples than separates us. I think of this when in Myanmar villagers wanted to touch our skin, in China people wanted photos of us, in Indonesia Muslim young people clamoured to show how good their English was and how they went to school together. As I try to sit on my heels in Mosques, hide my feet in temples and walk barefoot through monkey pee in Pagodas, I shall remember the confidence that Lucy Cavendish gave me all those years ago. So, after getting married and having the children, the best thing was getting my degree from Lucy at the Senate House in Cambridge – all 11 of us that year!