Best Ever

Breaking bridge news!

Two years of work have led to the discovery
of the “lost” medieval bridge in the River Teviot near Ancrum.

Medieval, eh? Pretty old, then? I guess so.

Experts, using radiocarbon dating,
have confirmed it is from the mid-1300s.

Wow. That doesn’t happen every day, eh? I guess not.

They said that makes them
the oldest scientifically dated bridge remains
found in their original position
across one of Scotland’s rivers.

Wow. The oldest. But wait. What’s that strange tingling? Could it be my spidey-sense? I guess so.

Just look at those qualifiers on “oldest.” Scientifically dated. Found in their original position. Across one of Scotland’s rivers.

Now, I entirely get the geographical qualifier, but I am puzzled as to who (other than scientists) has been going around dating bridge remains (and what possessed them to do so), as well as how frequently brick-or-stone bridge remains drift downstream. I mean, where else would you find them but where they fell?

Setting these issues aside, as I often have to do, I also have to admire the discipline of the precision, the restraint in claiming a record. In this era of marketing and political rhetoric increasingly indistinguishable from boasting, I say, “Good for them.”

It got me thinking about that impulse to claim a record in any field of human endeavour. Well, in any human activity, anyway, “endeavour” seeming a bit generous in some cases. The home page of Guinness World Records cites these:

  • Most-viewed video on YouTube (Baby Shark)
  • Fastest speed by an electric ice-cream van (80.043 mph)
  • Largest collection of Ghostbusters memorabilia (1,221)
  • Most Grand Prix wins (92)

I dunno. On the face of it, it seems sort of silly to me. (Well, except for that YouTube video one. I mean, I’d like more views for my creations.) And yet . . .

I think records-thinking does a few things. It spurs some on to great(er) effort: Here I’m thinking of the electric ice-cream-van driver. It puts some achievements in a context that is helpful for the uninitiated: Here I’m thinking of Grand Prix wins. And of me.

And it gives us a harmless way to take more pleasure in our admittedly mundane accomplishments: Here I’m thinking of “earliest arising time on a Tuesday without snow on the ground” perhaps, or “longest stretch of days without missing exercise in a month starting with A.”

Yes, suitable qualifiers make all the difference. With sufficient discipline and restraint, anyone can be a record holder. In their original position.

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12 Responses to Best Ever

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Wow! The potential for records abounds. Hadn’t thought of that way.
    Wonder if I should go for “the longest sermon ever preached?”
    But, sigh, the “shortest sermon ever preached” would likely get more listeners.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Here I think the goal is quality (however measured), not quantity. 🙂

      • Tom Watson says:

        Aha! That’s the key!

        • Isabel Gibson says:


        • Jim Taylor says:

          Come on, Tom. Baseball is the most statistically excessive game ever. Only in baseball will you get a statement that this is the first right-handed batter to get a pop-fly triple off a left-handed pitcher in ballpark X with a westerly wind blowing over 30 mph at 2:17 p.m. on June 18th… Even the Scottish bridge daters didn’t offer as many qualifications as the average baseball statistician.
          Jim T

  2. It is pleasant to think of winners and record-holders according to “admittedly mundane accomplishments” in the wake of the American election that cost billions of dollars, armies of volunteers, tanks full of thinkers, squadrons of organizers, and still left 150 million people in two opposing camps with barely enough tilt in the political office-winners to accomplish the promised reforms. Contemplating your lovely flower of “the grass that today blooms and tomorrow is cast into the oven” also re-calibrates the stress-o-meter.

  3. Medieval people were enthusiastic re-cyclers. Since most construction was ordered by lords and such, when the lord or such lost his money, power or head, the regular folks would gradually remove stones and wood for more “useful” purposes, especially improving their hovels. Several castles in the Rhine valley almost disappeared in this fashion. That bridge in Scotland must have been of great use to the community.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – That could indeed be what they were indicating – an unrecycled bridge (or the unrecycled remnants thereof). And it makes sense. Cutting and transporting stone from quarries would be tough work without any power assists, so why not capitalize on a source of building materials relatively close to hand?

  4. barbara carlson says:

    When John and I were staying a few weeks with a UK friend who was Comptroller at Haddon Hall, a medieval manor house recorded in the — I want to say Doomsday Book
    — I was dragooned into being a Tour Guide one day to fill in. I told the visitors as we stood in the little Chapel that some part of it was the oldest stone (whatever) in Britain, and a woman piped up with, “Oh, honey, all stones are old.”

    Reminds me of the guy being interrogated by the police about a murder. “He’s dead. What does it matter how he got that way?”

    That’s pretty much my opinion about archeological digs in general.

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