Crete: the island that tipped



Thomas Spratt

CAPTAIN THOMAS ABLE BRIMAGE SPRATT RN (you’ll know of him by now if you have been paying attention), in 1851, visited Crete for surveying purposes which involved an archaeological exploration of the island. One of his interesting discoveries was the way in which relative levels of land and sea had changed over the island in historic times.  Following a meeting with the geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, he wrote to him to clarify a point about the island’s movement:

“Dear Sir Charles, Fearing you may be impressed with the idea that the eastern end of Crete had gone down as much as the west. I am induced to write a line to rectify it, if so; and to state that movements in the eastern half of the island have neither been as great nor apparently as uniform as the western movement. Both are subsequent to the historic period and the evidences are in both instances indicated by the elevation or partial submergences of some ancient Greek building or city.”

The letter was written on the on the 28th of February 1856, which was a Thursday. The two must have met the previous evening because the following day Spratt wrote again to Lyell confirming the situation, perhaps as an afterthought:

“My dear Sir Charles, You understood me quite right on Wednesday evening in respect to the fact that the western half of Crete having been elevated, and the eastern half depressed or gone down a few feet.”

The submergence of the east coast can be seen today at the Minoan palace site of Kato Zakros – part of it is underwater even in mid-summer (pic below).


Kato Zakros (eastern Crete) flooded store rooms in July

However, the movements were not restricted just to the east and west tips of the island. Spratt observed that there was a maximum elevation of nearly 26 feet occurring on the south coast at the base of the White Mountains to the west of Sphakia, 17 feet to the extreme west of the island and declining to 6 or 7 feet along the north coast to Suda Bay.  He added that “all the ancient cities included in this line of coast have been affected by the elevation by the conversion of their ancient ports into dry land.”

At first, for some reason, he found this puzzling, not thinking until a little later, that the elevation must have “occurred subsequent to the existence of these cites” (all in the letter, Spratt to Lyell, letter, 29th February 1856)

map crete


Spratt had discovered this movement when searching for evidence of the ancient port of Kutri at Phalasarna on the western end of Crete.  He noticed possible ancient activity, some distance from the sea and wrote to his friend (a seasoned traveller of the Greek mainland), William Leake:

“On going to Phalasarna I looked for its ancient port, mentioned by Scylax … but I could find no artificial work in the sea. There is however, a long ledge of rocks, or rather an islet which lies off it, helping to form a natural but not an artificial harbour. This satisfied me in part, till, on examining the ruins, I saw in the plain a square place enclosed by walls and towers, more massive and solid than those of the city … I was instantly impressed, for several, reasons, that here was the ancient port or artificial port, although full 200 yards from the sea and nearly 20 feet above it. My first idea was, that the ancients had a means of hauling their vessels into it as a dry dock; but at last the coast elevation was uncumbered(sic?) and on measuring the sea mark at its upper level here I found that the bed of this anc[ient] port is now 3 or 4 ft below that level.” (letter Spratt to Leake, letter, 18th September 1853).

Then Spratt recalled a visit to the island of Cerigotto (Antikythera) where he had noticed an elevation of coastland and it occurred to him that the same may have taken place on Crete. He then measured the sea-marks at Phalasarna which convinced him that it had – the new sea marks were three feet below the old marks (plan below). This justified his theory that the inland “quadrangular space enclosed by the unusually massive Hellenic [Hellenistic] walls upon the plain in front of the chapel of Aghios Giorgis” was, indeed, the port.


Spratt’s plan of the Phalasarna harbour with pre-5th century AD and 19th century AD sea levels

In his above letter to Leake, he originally dated this movement of the island to a date prior to history (that will be prior to Greek writing of 776 BC). but was unsure, suspecting a more recent date due to a possible change in the markings on the landscape – concluding with a period “subsequent therefore to the decline of the Roman Empire [5th century AD]”.  In his journal he dated it to the late Roman period. Indeed, the tectonic displacement has been dated to the 5th century AD.


View to coast from the now ‘inland’ harbour at Phalasarna today

Crete being in an earthquake zone it is hardly surprising that it has moved about somewhat over the centuries, much to the initial confusion of earlier ‘investigators’ such as Spratt. But he was made of sterner stuff and was admirably able to resolve the inconsistencies before him.


Next week: Lets’s go to Mycenae

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Whilst travelling in Greece, I was invited to play cricket for the British School [of Archaeology] at Athens. My very good friend, Sir Mortimer Double-Dealer (a rival sportsman) needed to contact me and he telephoned the clubhouse where I was playing. He was told that I had just gone in to bat. “That’s all right,” he replied, ”I’ll hang on.”




The Labyrinth of Crete

IN THE LAST BLOG I looked at the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth of Crete. If there was such a Labyrinth, where could it have been?  Its mythical position was Knossos and the finding of many basement rooms at the site by Sir Arthur Evans appeared to have been its origin. However, there is a collection of ‘underground’ passages or caves similar to a labyrinth cut into a hill near Gortyns in the Messara, south of Mount Ida, mid-Crete. This has been a ‘tourist spot’ for several centuries but up until relatively recently (pre-20th century). The labyrinth and its association with a maze held fast during the ancient Greek world and the earliest pictorial example of a maze appears on the reverse of a Linear B tablet (remember linear B? see a prev. blog) from 15th century BC Pylos, presumably a doodle by an idle scribe since the drawing has nothing to do with the list on the reverse (see pic below).


Linear B tablet with labyrinth ‘doodle’

Several non-British individuals have visited the ‘caves’, including Buondelmonti (1415), Belon (1585), Tournefort (1700), Bonneval and Dumas (1783), Sieber (1817). They have all pondered on its use, the favourite being a quarry, although Tournefort considered there was no evidence for a quarry. Some have made plans of its intricate passages but all were different.

 British visitors

In 1596, Fynes Moryson visited the labyrinth and shortly afterwards, in 1611, George Sandys was there. He believed it was a quarry supplying stone for both Knossos and Gortyns.


The entrance to the Gortyn’s labyrinth – in the ground by the tree – not that you will ever find it (the hillside that is)

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Scot William Lithgow (1582-c.1654) saw the entrance into ‘the labyrinth of Daedalus’ in the foothills of Mount Ida but did not venture into the cavern: “… I would gladly have better viewed, but because we had no candle-light we durst not enter, for there are many hollow places within it. So that if a man stumble or fall he can hardly be rescued.”


Thomas Waldman going into the SE ‘entrance’ of the labyrinth at Gortyns – he has a smile on his face because he knows I am to follow …

So what was this mass of passages at Gortyns actually built for? The most likely purpose was a quarry. But there have been other suggestions. Thomas Spratt (1843/51) speculated that it was more likely use was that of a prison for the youths of Athens as tributes for the death of Minos’ son. They would be detained and cultivated as teachers of Minos’ law to the inhabitants of Crete rather than food for the Minotaur (but he didn’t say when). He concluded that the myth had developed from that aspect of fact.


inside the Gortyns’ labyrinth – rather unstable roof!

At the end of the 19th century both Charles Edwardes and R.A.H. Bickford-Smith believed the labyrinth to be both a quarry and prison. Around the same time, Charles Cockerell dismissed it as a mine due to its insufficient mineral in the walls, but concluded that “this wonderful excavation was as a secure storehouse for corn and valuables from attack of robbers in the day of Minos.” In true Thesian style he said he “brought a quantity of string for a clue, which we rolled on two long sticks, then lit torches and went in.” He was quite descriptive of the interior:

“At first one enters a vestibule out of which lead several openings. Two of the three, perhaps four, dark entrances are blocked up, but one remains open. This we followed, and for three mortal hours and more we groped about among intricate passages and in spacious halls. The windings bewildered us at once, and my compass being broken I was quite ignorant as to where I was. The clearly intentional intricacy and apparently endless number of galleries impressed me with a sense of horror and fascination I cannot decide. Every few steps one rested, and had to turn to right or left, sometimes to choose one of three or four roads. What if one should lose the clue [the string]!”

Its date is uncertain although most likely to be of Roman origin which would put pay to any ideas that it was the labyrinth of King Minos (who, if he did exist, would have been in the Bronze Age c3000-1250 BC). For dating and use purposes it may be interesting to compare the structure with the Beer Quarry Caves in East Devon which date back to the Roman period in Britain (click here)

lab map

Thomas Waldman’s plan of the labyrinth (see link below)

The cave structure is some 2.5 km in length and certainly of ‘labyrinthian’ style (see plan above). The southwest entrance was used by the previously mentioned travellers. However, during the last war, the Germans abandoned this and made the southeast entrance but it is now rather more of a pot-hole (3rd pic above). This entrance area was used for ammunition storage and, on their departure, the Germans blew it up, destabilizing the whole of the underground structure (my guide, Thomas, did not tell me this until we were inside the cave structure!). Shortly afterwards the Greek army built a tunnel into this entrance and removed some of remaining ammunition. Some shells were left and are still there today (see pic below), as are the labyrithian tunnels themselves (2nd pic above).


 ammunition shells scattered in the labyrinth – not very safe!

Recent activity

The cave was explored by the Speleological Exploring Group in 1982, and then the Hellenic Speleological Society, led by Anna Petrohilou, in 1984.  In 1999 the Cretan department of the Hellenic Speleological Society recorded all the signatures on the walls of the cave. In 2004, following a major investigation of the underground structure at Gortyns, Yiorgios Patroudakis prudently commented:

“From ancient times until now, many guessed and argued the position of the labyrinth, but none ever proved his/her theory. The labyrinth of Gortyne became the biggest tourist scene for 600 years, exactly because it was assumed that it was the ‘true’ labyrinth. Furthermore, from our knowledge, a clue to prove that this was the labyrinth never appeared. However, a clue to prove the opposite never arose either.”



SW entrance isn’t much better

Certainly the most comprehensive and more recent investigations of the site have been by Thomas M. Waldmann – to whom I owe eternal thanks for showing me around the site in 2010. It has now been closed to the public due to its dangers (but you won’t find it anyway!). However, if you are interested in more information on it, see Thomas’ very extensive findings and photos click here.


Next week: Crete: the island that tipped

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Today I gave a talk at my club, the ‘Wig & Trowel’, regarding my truly remarkable discovery in respect of the actual existence of Adam and possibly Eve.  I came across an inscription on clay tablet of a conversation between Adam and God, which I have translated as follows:

 ‘And the Lord did approach Adam and sayeth: “I’ll give you woman, and she will attend to your every need.”

“That sounds fantastic, God, what’s the catch?” sayeth Adam in response.

“Well, she will be expensive,” replieth God unto Adam, “she will cost you an arm and a leg,”

“Hmmm,” Adam did think and replieth unto God, “What have you got for a rib?”





Myth and the Minoans

King Minos and the Minotaur

THOMAS ABEL BRIMAGE SPRATT RN (see first blog on Crete) said of Crete, “A charming land without legend, some may feel, is like a bird of bright plumes without song.” Legend or myth would be used to explain the unexplainable but it might be said that anthropologists would now consider that myth holds some information relating to fact. To some extent such recognition owes its credence to the likes of Heinrich Schliemann with his discovery/publication of Troy and Mycenae (more on these later) giving a ‘ring of truth’ to the Homeric poems (on the Trojan War), and Sir Arthur Evans for the discovery/publication of the ‘Minoan civilization of King Minos’.

So was it King Minos who colonized Crete and built up a supreme navy (Minoan thalassocracy), clearing the Aegean of pirates? Well, we have no evidence to say he did, but we have no evidence to say that he didn’t. As the tale goes, he built a labyrinth (although labrys, in Greek, means double-axe, and labyinthos is house of the double-axe) and deposited in it the Minotaur. This creature had the head of a bull and the body of a man and was the off-spring of Minos’ wife’s dalliance with a bull (don’t ask). Minos’ wife was Pasiphae and a bit of a ….. well, lets leave it there. Each year seven girls and seven boys, on reaching maturity, were sent from Athens to Minos as ‘blood tributes’ (for the death of King Minos’ son, Androgeos, killed in Athens during the games) and they were thrown into the labyrinth to be savaged by the Minotaur. Seems a bit severe if you ask me. You get the impression that Minos was not the sort of bloke you argued with. Minoan Mafia.

labrnth gortyns

The ‘labyrinth’ at Gortyns in Crete (more on this next week)

Theseus, son of Aegeus (the King of Athens) volunteered to be one such sacrificial offering. But when he arrived, Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him (as girls do in myths), gave him a sword and some string to tie to the entrance to find his way out of the labyrinth. He duly slayed the Minotaur and escaped with Ariadne. And everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite.


Theseus killing the Minotaur (6th century BC pottery)

Daedalus, the architect who built the labyrinth and had given Ariadne the idea of the string, was in trouble with Minos. So he (Daedalus), and his son, Icarus (or Ikarus if you want to be Greek about it), escaped by making wings of feathers stuck together with wax. Unfortunately, contrary to his father advice, Icarus flew to close to the sun; his wax melted and he fell to his death. No surprises there. Daedalus did get away but Minos pursued him. He found him by setting a task for whoever he visited, believing only Daedalus would resolve it. He produced a shell and challenged anyone to work out how to get a spider through the middle of it. On arriving at Kamikos in Sicily, where Daedalus was hiding, the shell was given to the architect, who threaded a piece of cotton through a hole in the centre of the shell and covered it in honey – off went the spider through the hole. Oops, Daedalus had given himself away and must be doooooomed. But no. The daughters of the King Kokalos favoured Daedalus and his tricks and so killed Minos by pouring boiling water over him whilst he was in his bath. Nasty (‘don’t mess with the female of the species’ comes to mind). Then everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite.


no need to translate – you get the idea

Theseus sailed home to Athens but unceremoniously dumped Ariadne off at Naxos, an island just north of Crete. There’s gratitude for you. She overcame her grief and took up with the god, Dionysus (some tales say she was already married to him before meeting Theseus but that would be naughty). On approaching Athens Theseus forgot to change his sail from black to white – the sign to his father, King Aegeus, that he had lived. His father, seeing the black sail, assumed his son had died and threw himself off a cliff into the Aegean Sea (hence its name, clever, huh?). There is a moral here somewhere (probably ‘don’t mess with the female of the species’). Then everyone lived happily ever after. Well, if by ‘everyone’ we mean Theseus as he was the only one left, the answer is no, he was later thrown off a cliff in Skyros by Lycomedes. Ho hum.

So there you have it. Or not.


Next week: The real ‘labyrinth’ of Crete

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I recall as a student I had again failed to complete my tutorial topic for discussion. I thought that maybe if I acted strangely my tutor would send me home. So I hung upside down on the ceiling. On this occasion, there were two of us in the tutorial and my colleague, Edward, asked me what I was doing? I told him that I was pretending to be a light bulb so that the tutor would think I was losing my mind due to working too hard and suggest I go home for a rest.

A few minutes later the tutor came into the room and asked, “What are you doing Smith?”

I told him I was a light bulb.

He said, “You’re working too hard – go home and rest.”

I jumped down and walked out of the room suitably relieved.

When Edward followed me, I heard our tutor ask him, “And where are you going?”

He replied, “I can’t stay here in the dark.”




Bronze Age Crete: the Minoans

Chronology of Bronze Age Crete (3000-1450 BC)

UNLIKE the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Hittites, the Cretans of the second millennium BC left little written history. What they did leave were inscriptions on clay which have become known as Linear A and Linear B. Linear A is as yet undeciphered, but probably developed from Cretan hieroglyphics (c.1900-1600 BC) and is possibly a form of the Cretan/Minoan language, from which Linear B most likely evolved. Linear B was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952 as an early form of ancient Greek and of Mycenaean origin (Mycenae is on the mainland of Greece) rather than Minoan. It does not help a great deal with the historical background of Crete as it is administrative by nature but it does give an insight into the island’s commercial activities. Sort of annual accounts. Okay, better than nothing. But it can lead to some ambiguous (well, unproven) conclusions on Minoan life. But it’s fun to guess.

image001                              linear-B

Minoan Linear A                                                                           Mycenaean (Greek) Linear B

We’re not sure what the ancient Cretans were called in the Bronze Age, although it appears they may have been known as the ‘Kleftiu’ by the Egyptians. ‘Minoan’ Crete was a name given to the ancient islanders by Sir Arthur Evans simply based on the myth of their ancestor and founder, King Minos (more on him next week). Evans said, “To this early civilization of Crete as a whole I have proposed – and the suggestion has been generally adopted by the archaeologists of this and other countries – to apply the name ‘Minoan’.” In fact, he wasn’t the first to come up with the name but we won’t go there.


Arthur Evans at Knossos (painting from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford – the museum is well worth a visit for a ‘taste’ of the Minoan world)

It was Evans who first used the pottery styles found at Knossos to divide the Minoan civilization into three phases: Early, Middle and Late Minoan (EM, MM, LM respectively). The phases run nearly parallel to the tripartite division of Egyptian history into Old, Middle and New Kingdoms from 3000-1100BC. This does make it simpler ….. honest.

The basic tripartite scheme was further subdivided, based on pottery styles and stratigraphy, such that each of the three periods contained three or more divisions (EM I, II, III). These were then further subdivided into units indicated by letters of the alphabet (for example, LM IB). As additional excavations and studies have been undertaken this system has come under criticism for being too inflexible and partly inaccurate. But we won’t dwell on this.


Sir Arthur Evans immortalized at Knossos (and rightly so)

Chronology identity was not all Arthur Evans did. He made some groundbreaking discoveries on the Minoan civilization as a result of his excavations at the ‘palace’ site of Knossos, funded by his own wealth. However, he proceeded to reconstruct the palace using his own imagination of how it may have looked. This was partly for his own interest and partly for conservation purposes. This has proven somewhat controversial as, of course, it may be inaccurate. Also it has restricted further excavations at the site. But there are those who like it as it gives the site some perspective. You can make your own mind on that if you have been there or ever go there. Compare it with the non-reconstructed sites of Malia and Phaistos. Anyway, I digress.

Emergence of ‘palaces’

The Middle Minoan (MM) civilization has become known as a highly developed hierarchical society culminating in ‘palace’ buildings. But how did this come about? What must first be considered is what is meant by the word ‘palace’ in relation to the Middle and Late Minoan periods of Crete. A modern-day understanding of the word is a large and impressive residential building for a wealthy royal family. Minoan ‘palaces’ were certainly large and for the wealthy, but not necessarily for royalty, as it is not known who lived in them other than that they must have had some authority. They may have been Priests – or Priestesses – or Priest Kings if the ‘palaces’ were of a religious nature (they appear to have been involved in cult practices).  However, for convenience sake these Minoan buildings will be referred to as ‘palaces’ as their architectural design warrants the word. So there. The main palace sites (in descending order of size) were Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Kato Zakros. Also, recent discoveries at Galatas, and possible Petras, indicate smaller palatial residences. Of course, there are possibly more, as yet, undiscovered.


Minoan ‘palace’ sites on Crete

The old palaces of the proto-palatial period (c.1900-1700/1650BC) may have incorporated nearly all the basic features and infra-structures of the new palaces of the neo-palatial period (1700/1650-1450BC). These ‘features’ being a central court, west court, storage magazines, residential quarters, banquet hall, public/administrative apartments, cult rooms, theatral area and workshops. It is difficult to be certain due to the destruction of most the old palaces to make way for the new. Little of the old sites remain in evidence other than the foundation to the west façade of Phaistos, as here the new palace was not built immediately above it. After the destruction of the old palaces the neo-palatial sites, particularly at Knossos, Phaistos and Malia, were all enlarged with grander and more imposing styles.

The building of palaces required large surpluses of wealth, and it is this emergence of wealth that must account for the emergence of palaces. ‘Wealth’ may be defined as possession of goods for their desirability and not for their usefulness. For example, gold is desirable but not always of great use compared with practical or domestic items of bronze or ceramics. Okay, it’s otherwise known as ‘greed’.


North entrance to the ‘palace’ of Knossos … er, well, not exactly 3000 years old, but about 100 years old as this was the reconstruction by Sir Arthur Evans – so it may not have look anything like this (useful, huh?)

But how was this wealth obtained? When land no longer becomes readily available to all due to an increase in population, inequalities develop and those with no land become labourers. This leads to the possibility of the beginning of a hierarchy. As time goes on, specific individuals who are able to best exploit the ‘inequalities’ become the elite. These elite ‘families’ then compete within themselves for power and one way to exercise power is to display wealth by way of hospitality through dinner parties or gift-giving (xenia). So the elite needed investment and this leads to a revolution in agricultural products, centralization, movement of surplus, redistribution, rapid population growth and a more organized/controlled settlement. Otherwise known as ‘power’. You know the feeling …..


Here’s the throne room at Knossos, created …… er, 100 years ago by Arthur Evans

throne rm

Here’s the 3000 year old throne room at Knossos as Evans found it 100 years ago (1900 actually) – the throne and benches were there but that’s about it

Initially farmers only needed to grow only enough to keep the immediate family alive from year to year which may assume some surplus to ensure survival. Also the family produced domestic goods such as pots and utensils for their own use and essential to their own needs. This would extend to less domesticated luxury goods. As farms increased in size, both in acreage and population, so too did the community, and distribution of excess produce and luxury goods led to wealth. Yummy.


The possible ‘throne room’ (or area as ‘el fresco’) at Malia from the central court – this is something like Knossos may have looked like if Evans hadn’t reconstructed some of it (ignore the object centre/right foreground – it’s a cannon ball but Venetian, not Minoan!)

Due to its position in the Mediterranean, Crete would have had some contact with overseas travellers from the surrounding continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, and there is evidence of trade connections with these regions. There must be a close link between social and commercial progress: trade in various products with other countries brought in new ideas which led to more trade, both within Crete and outside, which led to an increase in wealth for the traders. The finding of sealstones (mostly by Evans) on some sites indicated movement and identification of goods, which required development of administration in a land becoming more organized (Linear A – pay attention: see above). Such development would require employment of labourers and craftsmen to keep up with the volume of demand. Larger houses would have been built to accommodate the wealthy. Get it?


The palace site of Phaistos (central court in far background) – also without Arthur Evans reconstructions

Destruction and coming of the Mycenaeans

It is not known for certain what caused the demise of the Minoan civilization. One suggestion was a tsunami from the Theran volcanic eruption but the dating doesn’t match; another is earthquake but the island has survived those before. All that is known is that around 1450BC a disaster struck the island of Crete and its civilization came to an end and the Mycenaeans from the Argolid of the eastern Peloponnese on mainland ‘Greece’ appeared to have taken control of Knossos (possibly taking advantage of earthquake-weakened Minoan defences). Whether the Mycenaeans were a part of this destruction is not clear but they may well have been covetous of the Minoan wealth and trade links. Makes sense.


Earthquake damage at the small palace site of Galatas

The Mycenaeans remained in Knossos for around 200 years before another unknown disaster brought an end to the island’s civilized world. But more on the Mycenaeans another day.

For more info on various Minoan sites in Crete click here


Next week: The Minoans and mythology


I see that the Plantagenet Alliance has had the same result as Richard III did at Bosworth – failure. At the Judicial Review hearing the High Court decided that it was not necessary for consultation with ‘other parties’ about the reburial of Dick’s bones. One of the judges, Lord Justice Ouseley, remarked: “Richard III would have raised an eyebrow if he’d been told there would be public consultation on his reburial 500 years on. Kings of that era weren’t democrats.”  Humour from a judge? … or cynicism for the whole lengthy process … or just stating a fact?. So Leicester Cathedral it is. A 15th century-style gold-plated crown has even been commissioned by the historian, Dr John Ashdown-Hill, for the funeral ceremony. Nice touch but merely ‘gold-plated’? – it is hardly befitting a monarch! Anyway, it is/was being displayed in York just to show its connection has not been forgotten before going ‘on tour’ around the UK.


Richard III’s gold-plated funeral Crown

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I met my good friend Jasper Rochweiller yesterday and he said to me:

“I say Artemus, old boy, close shave the other day. My good lady sent me out to purchase a bag of fresh snails from our local delicatessen. She was determined to expand our culinary delights. Well, I bought the bag of snails but on the way back I meet some of my students who insisted I went for drink with them. Rude to say no and one, of course, lead to another, and so it went on for over two hours. Got back home a little worse for wear. As I put my key in the door the bottom fell out of the bag containing the snails – it had been sitting on a beer covered table and got rather wet – and all the snails fell to the ground. At the very same time the good lady opened a window and asked me in no uncertain manner where the devil I had been all this time.

Ignoring her, I looked down at the snails on the ground and said in very loud voice, “Nearly home boys.””