The heavens opened.
And duty called, even on a Sunday. For school, a display on the Victorians, ready for a public event on Monday evening, was necessary. And I needed Victorian artefacts.
I trawled the sources of Victorian wooden toys in my mind and decided wistfully that a trip into our local market town was going to be a must. I must make a wet, crowded, expensive drive, alone because everyone else in the house had colds.
I braced myself. I got in the car. And I turned the ignition key, backed out of the drive and got on the road.
I found a parking place in a great shopping cathedral and scuttled off through the fat drops of rain to the museum, a worthy red-brick building. I walked through the doors into a museum which, with the gloom outside, looked as if the caretaker had already turned half the lights out.
My heart sank. Even one of my favourite sanctuaries felt abandoned.
I located and bought what I had to. And then, I instinctively headed for the one exhibit with which I must commune, this rainy afternoon.
It is two floors up, in a glass lift. I stepped out expecting to see no-one. There were a few straggling sightseers, grandparents with toddlers looking for rainy-day activity.
I wandered into the Roman galleries: and there he stood. My battered Roman eagle.
He is called the Silchester Eagle, and the Romans are thought to have thrown my eagle away for scrap.
Silchester is the site of an old Roman town, Calleva Atrebatum. We’ve been digging it for well over a century: Reading’s University oversees it these days.
My eagle was discovered a very long time ago, on October 9, 1866, by a clergyman. The Reverend JG Joyce, who excavated the dig from 1864-1878, was certain it was a very important eagle indeed: probably part of a Roman standard.
And it was in this capacity that author Rosemary Sutcliffe used him to inspire her classic tale The Eagle Of The Ninth , published in 1954, a must-read for anyone who hasn’t.
In actual fact, research has revealed that he was once sitting on a sphere as part of a Roman ornament. Than the original craftsman was extremely skilled but subsequent repairs after accidents were clumsier. And that, according to his location, he was probably awaiting being melted down for scrap.
Originally, my eagle had glorious great outspread wings, but no more. He is time-battered. But he has a circumspect air, as if really, it is all one could expect from life.
He has seen a rainy afternoon or two.
Here we stood, he and I, in a darkened room on a wet September afternoon. His attitude seemed to speak much louder than words. This is life, he said. You keep going, you tread each step, you serve your masters faithfully, spend years buried under ashes and lose a wing or two: and still, a kind of immortality can be yours.
With a wisdom borne of more than a millennium of experience, I would swear he was smiling.
Hello, Eagle, I said.
Hello, he replied companionably.
And then it was time to leave: to draw away from my eagle and trail reluctantly back to the gliding glass lift, leaving him amongst the coins and pots and tiles and remains of a city which died more than a thousand years ago. Time to come down from the mountain and rejoin life in the soggy streets of an English market town.