Do you yearn for simplicity? For the uncomplex, the fundamental, the earthy and actual, the stuff we came from?

To go beyond the dross, the televised talent shows, the women's wrestling, the guidance counsellors with bad breath, the ravening executives, the health food fanatics, the communications specialists, the acne-bitten computer buffs, the folk musicians and the celebrity chefs, and to get back to well, what?

For me it's an Iron Age round house. I know, but hear me out.

Archaeology shows on television are forever digging up Iron Age round houses. Because such shows dress up as informative, nice people like me can watch them with a clean conscience, but in reality, like most television, they're a form of cheap emotional indulgence.


They offer the comfort of being reminded that millions of people have lived and died before us, and with that reminder comes a pleasing and accurate sense of belittlement, a sense of looking down the long arc of history and seeing the insignificance of one's own brief sojourn. Tout casse, tout lasse, tout passe. No importa nada. Sub species aeternitatis (ooh we're knocking out the languages today) it just doesn't matter. That's the pleasure in them.

A smouldering peat fire inside a reconstructed Iron Age house. At the geometrical centre of the house lay the heart of the house, a fire. Photo / Getty Images
A smouldering peat fire inside a reconstructed Iron Age house. At the geometrical centre of the house lay the heart of the house, a fire. Photo / Getty Images

Actually, although I say an Iron Age round house, I'm not entirely sure when the Iron Age was, apart from it coming after the Bronze Age and before, presumably, the Steel and Everything Else age. But ages took ages then (the Stone Age went on for millennia) and besides, no one who lived in any of the ages knew they were doing so, so perhaps I should just call the thing a round house. And everything I know about it I got from television.

Round houses varied from family size to tribe size. The walls would be piled stones or wattle and daub, topped with a conical roof of thatch. No windows, of course (the Glass Age was yet to come), so the place was perpetually in darkness relieved only by such natural light as speared through the doorway or the chimney hole.

At the geometrical centre of the round house lay the heart of the house, the hearth of the house, a fire. A fire that never went out. And it is around that fire that my fantasy lives.

Daily life was lived outside. There was work to be done, most of it associated with the gathering and storing of food, the raw business of survival. But as night falls everything withdraws inside the warmth and comfort of the round house. Everything.

The fire glows. Crude lamps of tallow flicker. Shadows loom huge on the roof. Meat hangs in the rafters to be cured and blackened by smoke. The floor is dry, sandy, laid with animal skins, with furs and hides.

Children sleep in laps and nooks, beside a pen of livestock. Poultry roosts where it can. The distinction between man and beast is blurred to insignificance. Everything is imprecise.

People lie or squat or sit cross legged, their faces to the fire, their backs to the hostile world. The day is done. Tomorrow doesn't exist. And in the half-known darkness the old talk. They tell the stories of the tribe which are the stories they were told as children and the only stories known to human kind, the sum of all experience, the world explained.

In the darkness of the round house you cannot see who's speaking. The old familiar words are disembodied, hanging in the air and in the flickering firelight, an aural bath that goes in through the skin as much as through the ears. They are the truth and they are mystery and they are all there is to know.

There is little distinction between wake and sleep. The air is thick with the breathing, bleating, muttering. There is only now. And that's it. That's the image of simplicity to which I cleave. It seems to me quite close to happiness.

I realise, of course, that Iron Age life was nasty, brutish, short. More babies died than lived. An adult was worn out by 35. Pain and hunger were constants. I wouldn't last five minutes in such a world. My soft fat flesh would split and yield. My pampered psyche would whimper and shrivel.

And yet, and yet, even today, as I lie in my plump bed of nights, I go there in my thoughts and I hear the disembodied elders, see the flickering firelight, smell the rich farm animals, and a peace comes sliding over me and I sleep.