Henry V

Nov. 9th, 2015 10:04 pm
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I was in London for the day on Saturday. I had booked to see 'Photograph 51', a play about Dr Rosalind Franklin and her role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, but I arrived early enough to have time to go first to the Guildhall Gallery where there is a temporary display commemorating the 600th Anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

There is the Great Chronicle of London, displaying an account of Henry V's entry into London following his victory.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the Crystal Sceptre (also known as the Crystal Mace) which was a gift from Henry V to the City of London, in thanks for their having loaned him the money (around £4M in modern terms) to finance his campaign. (actually, there isn't a lot else of the exhibition, but there doesn't need to be)

Crystal Sceptre - head showing Henry V's coat of Arms

The sceptre is made of rock crystal and gold, and apparently (and with a touch of irony) the crystal parts were, almost certainly made in France!

The whole thing is beautiful, and I found it amazing that it has, apparently, never been put on display before (it is used each time a new Lord Mayor is installed, but apparently they only hold the box, and it does get an airing when it is carried by the Lord Mayor during coronations, so I suppose people may have caught a glimpse of it in 1953)

Hedon Mace

The second item on display is the Hedon Mace - it belongs to the town council of Hedon, in East Yorkshire, and is believed to be a mace used at the battle of Agincourt, which was then coated in silver gilt, and was given to the town by Henry V when he granted a charter to the town in 1415

It is believed to be the oldest surviving ceremonial mace in the country, and looking at it, one of the things which stands out is that despite the gilding and engraving it is still, very obviously, a weapon. You can imagine a medieval Brian Blessed wielding it to lethal effect!

Its on display until 3rd December.

Entirely gratuitous picture of Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, because
 when am I likely to get a better excuse?


Nov. 8th, 2015 09:30 pm
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I'm very lucky to live close to Bath, which has two lovely independent bookshops, Mr B's and Topping and Co Books, both of which regularly arrange events and signings.

One of the most recent was an event organized by Toppings, featuring Professor Mary Beard, who was in Bath to talk about her new book, S.P.Q.R.

Prof. Beard is a very interesting speaker: she spoke about how questions may be raised about whether there is a need for more books about the Romans, and a lot of what she spoke about were the new developments in archaeology which have produced new information and new insights into the past, but also made the point that historians in each age ask different questions, so of course what they discover, and how they interpret information, varies.

One example she gave was that in the past, (male) historians have tended to assume that Roman barracks were very masculine spaces , but the number of children's shoes

Beard spoke about a number of recent developments and discoveries which have provided new information, for instance:

- Analysis of ice core samples from Greenland which show signs of pollutions from Roman mining operation in Spain

- Analysis of teeth from Roman burials which show the climate (and therefore, to an extent) the region, in which people spent their childhood (or at least that part of it during the period their 2nd teeth were growing in). This has been particularly interesting in looking at the teeth of Roman Britons. It seems that around 20% of the Roman population grew up in significantly warmer climates,which suggests a much greater degree of movement within the Roman world than previously thought.

- Analysis of the material found in cess-pits in Herculaneum, which gives information about the diet of ordinary people, whereas in the past, the main evidence has been from Roman writing, where descriptions of food have tended to be about the banquets of the rich, not about normal, every day food. The new evidence shows that ordinary people in Herculaneum were eating a lot of fish, chicken, eggs, figs, sea-urchins, pork, and pepper (which would have been imported, and presumably, expensive)

As well as new scientific evidence, she explained the there are also, still, new literary discoveries to be made - around 10 years ago a new essay of Galen's was discovered in the library of a monastery in Greece.

She explained that she Chose S.P.Q.R. as title as she wanted to include and focus on the 'Populi' - the people of Rome, not just the senate or aristocracy - and in particular to think about women and their role.

I would like to read the book, but admit that I shall wait until it comes out in paperback - the hardback is vast and heavy! But I may be re-reading her book about Pompeii in the mean time!

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After my night at the theatre, I had the morning free before heading home, so took the opportunity to go to the British Library, to see their Magna Carta :Law, Liberty, Legacy Exhibition, which opened on 13th March.

The exhibition is, of course, part of the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of the Charter, and it is both fascinating and comprehensive.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with some background reading - a beautifully illuminated scroll setting out King John's genealogy, Henry I's coronation charter, and the Laws of King Cnut, reminding us that Magna Carta didn't emerge from a vacuum, but built on previous ideas and legal agreements. There were contemporary accounts of John's first forays into warfare (in Ireland) and of his murder of his nephew Arthur, and documents relating to the political and financial issues which led up to Magna Carta (the Papal Interdict, documents relating to the treatment of Jewish moneylenders, and so on.) The Papal Bull which put England under the Pope's overlordship is also displayed, as the the Statute of Pamiers, which was a charter issued by Simon de Montfort to his French subjects in 1212, guaranteeing rights similar to those in Magna Carta.
Thomas Cromwells's remembrances:
Photo British Library

Then there were documents relating to the Charter and its implementation,such as the Articles of the Barons, (effectively a first draft of Magna Carta), documents relting to the dissemination of the Charter,  the Papal Bull annulling it, King John's will, (and his finger bone, 2 teeth, and a fragment of his shroud, all taken from his tomb when it was opened in 1797).

There were also copies of the later Charters, reissued in 2017, and by Henry III.

The next stage of the exhibition moves on and looks at how Magna Carta was used and invoked, including a handwritten note by Thomas Cromwell (believed to relate to Sir Thomas More's trial), The Petition of Right of 1628, to King Charles I, (and printed details of his trial) and the Bill of Rights of 1688, (which invited William and Mary of Orange to take the throne, and set lmits to their power if they did)

Declaration of  Independence :
Photo from NY Public Library
And then moved on to the Colonies, starting with transcripts of the trial of William Penn (at which the Judge notoriously imprisoned the jury for failing to give the guilty verdict he felt appropriate!),and including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, and contemporary printed copies, together with material relating to the laws of various of the original States, some of which, such as Massachusetts and Virginia specifically invoked Magna Carta.

There are also political cartoons relating to the French Revolution, and to to the Chartist movement in this country.

The remaining section of the exhibition relates to more recent developments - documents relating to the East India Company, and, later, the Colonies. There are also documents relating to Churchill's suggestion to give the Lincoln Magna Carta to the USA, in the hopes this would encourage the US to join the War, and modern political cartoons, as well as, on a lighter note, Magna Carta themed jigsaws, games, a Ladybird Book, and of course Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That which notes that John was a Bad King,  but that Magna Carta was a Good Thing (which, now I come to think of it, is arguably the message of this exhibition, too!)

Right at the end of the exhibition are the British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, the 'London'and 'Lincoln' copies.

The 'London' Magna Carta - British Library

It is a very interesting exhibition. Many of the items on display have been loaned by other institutions, from the NY Library, to the French National Archives, Parliament, several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and any number of Cathedrals, so the chances of seeing them all together again seems slim!

The exhibition continues until September, so I am hoping that I shall have a chance to go back, perhaps when the exhibition is a little less crowded (well, a girl can hope!). If you are in or near London between now and September, I'd strongly recommend going.
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When in London last week, we had time to pop into the British Museum, after our visit to Magna Carta.

We didn't have a lot of time, so we didn't go into any of the (ticketed) special exhibitions, as we would not have had time to take advantage of them, but we did pop in to see the Meroë Head of Augustus, which is being specially featured at present.

It is a life-sized bronze of the head of the Emperor Augustus, dating to around 27-25 BCE, and discovered in what is now Sudan, in 1910.

Apparently this type of bust was sent to all corners of the Empire.

This particular one was part of the spoils of war when, in 25 BCE a Kushite army made a successful raid on the borders of Roman Egypt, captures the bronze and buried it under the steps of their victory monument in order that everyone who visited the monument could trample on Augustus's decapitated head . .  As you do!

As you can see, it still has the original eyes, made of coloured glass paste, for the irises, surrounded by a copper ring, and set into polished stone. There are even the remains of his (copper) eyelashes.

It is a beautiful piece, and there is something haunting about seeing Augustus staring out from 2,000 years of history. (According to the museum's display, the same bust continued to be used throughout his reign, so although he was probably in his 30s when it was originally made, his image wasn't changed, so Augustus at 76 was still represented throughout the Empire by portraits of his 30(ish) year old self.

Maybe next time I visit the museum I shall have to make time to look at more of their Roman collection, to see who else I can find.

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When I booked to see Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos at the British Library, I saw that there was another event, involving Dave McKean performing some of his own music, and happily there were 2 performances, one on Friday evening, and one on Saturday evening, so I was able to book for the Saturday without having to book a day off work.

I got a train up to London, around midday on Saturday. The Dave McKean event wasn't until 6.30, so I had a few hours in London, and I decided to go to a museum I've not previously visited, The Foundling Museum, which is close to the British Library.

The museum is on the site of Thomas Coram's original Foundling Hospital - Coram was a sea captain, who became appalled at the sight of children abandoned and dying on the streets of London, and who campaigned to get a Royal Charter in order to set up a foundling hospital. He wasn't particularly well connected, and it took him 17 years to get what he needed, but he got his Royal Charter signed by George II in 1739, and founded a ' Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children'

The hospital was so popular that they had to introduce an application process, and parents were encouraged to leave a token to allow them to identify their child if they were ever able to return to reclaim them.

The museum has a lot of the tokens on view - some serve to illustrate how poor the parents were - there are little twists of ribbon, beads, even playing cards. There are also more distinctive tokens - a bone fish (probably a gambling token) and a medallion which was a season ticket for Vauxhall pleasure gardens.

The children were given new names when they were admitted, and (if not reclaimed by their parents) were apprenticed once they became old enough, with a view to them becoming productive members of society.

Coram may not have started with much in the way of influence or connections, but he managed to achieve both - William Hogarth became a Governor of the hospital, and designed its coat of arms, and the original uniforms, as well as donating art works.

Handel supported it, conducting charity concerts, including performances of his 'Messiah' Oratorio there, to benefit the hospital, and remembering it in his will.

As well as information and exhibits relating to the history of the hospital, the museum has a lot of art - the current displays include copies of Hogarth's Rake's Progress' etchings, together with modern interpretations and reflections of similar themes, by David Hockney, Yinka Shonibare, Jessie Brennan and Grayson Perry.

It made for an interesting, thought-provoking, and occasionally heart-breaking afternoon.

The Coram organisation still works with children and  their families, although they no longer run children's homes directly. And the museum is well worth visiting, if you have the opportunity.


May. 17th, 2014 06:32 pm
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Once I had the tickets for the BL event for Friday evening, I also booked for the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, so spent some time there before meeting up with my friend, to head on to the Library.

Roskilde 6
I was a little disappointed at the exhibition. Firstly,  the exhibition has timed tickets and limited availability, but they seem to have seriously misjudged how many people can realistically see the exhibits at any one time, with the result that it was massively overcrowded. Given that the majority of exhibits are small and intricate, this is a particular disadvantage!

The stand-out exhibit, and the exception to this, of course, is 'Roskilde 6' the remains of a 37m long Viking ship.The ship has been dated to around 1025 AD (around 20% of the display is the original timbers) It is dramatic and awe inspiring, but the rest of the exhibition does not entirely live up to it!

That said, there are interesting exhibits - some beautifully ornamented metal work and stone carving, and lots of fascinating nuggets of information : images and grave-goods associated with sorceresses included their staffs, which in turn had decorative heads reminiscent of spindles/distaffs; the information accompanying them suggested that there were close associations between woman, magic and spinning (So it is not only the Norns who combine magic and spinning!)  There was also a fascinating map of the British Isles, showing the distribution both of placenames of Viking origin, but also of Viking DNA.

I'm glad I saw the exhibit, but do feel that the curators missed opportunities to make it more human - it seemed, for the most part, a little dry and academic, and, as I mentioned, very, very overcrowded.

And of course, after leaving, I still had the most exciting part of the day still to come!
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A couple of weeks ago, I saw Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) tweet about a project which both he, and Neil Gaiman have contributed to, together with Tom Abba and Artists' Collective, 'Circumstance'.

(Picture (c) the project)
The project, 'These Pages Fall Like Ash' is an interactive story, part book, part city exploration with downloaded content, part personal imagination.

I booked a ticket (or bought a book, depending how you chose to look at it) and on Saturday travelled to Bristol to take part.  I picked up my book (beatifully packaged) from the Watershed, and got started.

The book is a beautiful little thing, made from wood and paper, and it tells two stories, or two halves of one story, one set in the Bristol we know, the other half set in a parallel city, with characters who may, or may not, know and remember one another.

The book also contains clues to locations within Bristol, at which you can download further parts of the story, using a smartphone or tablet. You have to find the right place; the content is stored on hidden hard drives, so you have to be in the right part of the city.

I wasn't able to complete the whole story (?stories) - the project hasn't been finished yet, there is still some digital content which hasn't yet been uploaded, and I had trouble with a couple of the sites, but it is a very interesting concept, and it caused me to look at the city in a way I hadn't done before.

I must have passed the hairdressers in St Nicholas Street numerous times, but had not noticed the veiled bust, for instance.

I hope I shall have time to go back and revisit while the project is up and complete, to finish the stories, but if I don't , I think some of the digital content will be available as a pdf once the project is over.

And I believe that there are plans for other, similar projects in other cities.

It's definitely an interesting and innovative piece of art, and I'm glad I joined in.
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Some time ago,I booked tickets for two of the British Museum's headline exhibitions for this year: - Ice Age art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, so Saturday morning saw me on a train to London, to visit the BM and see them both.


I started with Pompeii. Well, to be truthful, I started with a very nice lunch at a lovely little French bistro not far from the Museum, but after that I went into the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

I was lucky enough to able able to visit both cities, about 18 months ago, together with the Archaeological museum in Naples, so I was not sure whether there would be many things I hadn't already seen (although of course I had no problem with seeing them again!)

Kitchen Mural

The exhibition is arranged by rooms, a little as if looking around a Roman house -  starting with the street, and moving in to an Atrium, Bedroom, Kitchen, Garden and so forth.

Many of the items were familiar - the 'Cave Canem' mosaic, for example, and the portrait of the Baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife, (which is the headline poster for the exhibition), others were less familiar.

I don't remember seeing the more technical exhibits, such as pipes and valves which looked startlingly modern, or the fountain head in the shape of a rabbit, before.

There were also various pieces of furniture which I had not seen before - the poignant carbonised cradle, for instance (I'd seen it in TV documentaries, but not in person), a small household alter, and personal items found with some of the bodies, such as a surgeon's implements, a child's charm-bracelet and a key.

There were also items such as loaves of bread, dishes of figs, pomegranates and grain, all carbonised, and therefore preserved for over 2,000 years, which are just astonishing!

Garden fresco

One of the most dramatic and memorable parts of the exhibition, however, has to be the Garden frescos - 3 walls of gardens, with gorgeous and life-like plants and birds.

The exhibition does include a small number of the famous casts - one of a guard dog, and others of a family of four - parents and two young children, but the exhibition focuses on life rather than death. It's very interesting, and I'm glad I went.

(There are more pictures in the Evening Standard's review, here, and on the Museum's own website)

After this, I wandered upstairs to visit Noggin the Nog the Lewis Chessmen, and a few other bits and pieces, while I waited for the time-slot for my entry into the Ice Age exhibition.

One of the things I like about the British Museum is how big it is, and how much stuff there is, so if (like me) you have a poor sense of direction, you tend to wander down a corridor, or turn a corner, and stumble upon the Mespotomanian Queen of the Night, or a glazed brick guardsman from the palace of Darius of Persia (both of which I saw in between Pompeii and the Ice Age..)

20,000 year old Bison sculpture

The Ice age exhibition was, to me, a little bit of a disappointment - they sell timed tickets, but seemed to have been greedy and overestimated how many people could reasonable view the (mainly small) at once. The exhibition itself is also fairly small. The curators have added some modern pieces, such as Matisse sketches and a Henry Moore sculpture, to highlight how close the relationships between modern and ancient art were.

Despite my grouching, there were some lovely pieces - a beautiful bison, and a lovely horse. And the swimming reindeer, which is part of the permanent collection, and one of my favourites.

It's fascinating to see the skill and accuracy of the sculptures, and to realise that they were created with nothing but bone and stone tools!

An interesting day. Long, but I'm glad had the chance to see both exhibitions.

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Saturday evening, after our day spent mainly in the British Library, found us at the Noel Coward theatre, to see Peter and Alice, a new play by John Logan.

I booked the tickets last summer, as the premise sounded interesting, and I wanted to see both Judi Dench (who plays Alice) and Ben Whishaw (Peter). (I've had bad luck before - last time I had tickets to see Judi Dench she sprained her ankle the day before we saw the show, and her understudy was on instead..)

The starting point for 'Peter and Alice' is a real-life meeting between the 80 year old Alice Lidell Hargreaves (who was Lewis Carrol's inspiration and audience for 'Alice in Wonderland') and 35 year old Peter Llewelyn-Davies (who, with his brothers, inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan). There's no record of what they said to one another, so Logan was free to speculate.

We begin by seeing Peter (a publisher) trying to convince Alice to publish her memoires, revealing, in the course of their conversation, that he 'is' "Peter Pan" just as she 'is' "Alice in Wonderland". things get odder from there, as we meet not only Carroll and Barrie, but also the  Alice and Peter from the books. The set becomes fantastical - like a toy theatre decorated with images from both books, and both characters reveal more and more about their lives.

Whishaw is particularly strong; resentful of his borrowed notoriety, deeply scarred by his war-time experience and the loss of two of his brothers, and ultimately deeply pessimistic.

There are many entertaining moments in the play - Peter and Alice arguing with their literary alter-egos, Alice's imperious put downs, and the casual arrogance of the fictional Alice and Peter, too young and fearless to have learned to be afraid.

Olly Alexander made an excellent Peter Pan, capturing just the right feel of the boy who never grew up, and to me, it seemed that the play was far more about Peter Davies than anyone else.

Ultimately, however, the play was slightly disappointing - I enjoyed it, but the players outshone the play; there was rather too much telling, and not quite enough showing, and I suspect that without the superb Whishaw and Dench, the play (which at less than 90 minutes  is pretty short) would drag)

The play is a new one one, and only opened on 9th March, so perhaps the author will consider some re-writes to tighten it up a little... or perhaps not.

I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars, I think - 5/5 for the acting, a little less for the production. But I'm very glad I went, and frankly I'd go to see Judi Dench if she were reading the phone book!

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After Friday night's soiree with J.K. Rowling, last night's treat was an event with Hilary Mantel, author of 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring up the Bodies' and twice winner of the booker Prize.


I have to confess that I have only read a couple of her books, but they (particularly the historical ones) are high on my reading list, and I was also interested to hear her speak, based on her reputation.

Read more... )

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It's March, which means that the Bath Literature Festival is on. I was not very organised this year, and left it late to book tickets, so there were some events, such as Sandi Toksvig's, which I didn't get to go to because they sold out too fast.

However, all was not lost.

The first event I went to this year was on Saturday, to hear Prof. Jerry Brotton, speak about his recent book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps. I had not read the book, but it sounded as if it could be interesting, and it was.

Saturday was also the day of the Bath 1/2 Marathon, which meant that a lot of roads were closed, so I travelled in early, by train, and treated myself to a pub lunch and a pint before heading to the Guildhall for the talk. The marathon had mostly finished by the time I arrived in Bath, but there were still an awful lot of people wandering round wrapped in tin-foil. Fortunately the pub I  picked wasn't too crowded - maybe people who run (half) marathons are not very pub-orientated?

Jerry Brotton

Brotton explained that he is not a geographer,he is a professor of Renaissance Studies, and that his interest is in looking at the philosophy of map making. He then took us through his 12 maps, starting with a 7th C. Babylonian map (showing Babylon and the centre, and the wild places outside), an Islamic map from the 11th C (with South at the top) a Ptolemiac map, (noting that Ptolemy, in 150 BC, was writing about the difficulty of representing a globe, on a flat piece of paper) before moving on to speak about a Korean Map of 1409 (based on Chinese maps, and the first of the maps shown to be orientated with North at the top), the Hereford Mappa Mundi, which includes the Garden of Eden, and is orientated to the East,  and a then a 1492 Globe (unfortunately produced before Columbus came home, and therefore completely blank so far as the Americas are concerned)

All of these maps are what he described as 'egocentric mapping'; centred upon, and giving greatest prominence to, the nation where  it was produced.

He then moved on to speak about different projections, pointing out that Mercator's projection, and maps (1569) work very well for the purpose for which they were created; i.e. sailing the trade routes. He made the point that the earlier maps were not created with a view to helping you to get from A to B, and that once you start wanting to use maps for that purpose, your needs, and the way in which you design the maps, has to change.

Which led on to talking about more recent maps, including the Peters Projection (aimed to get away from  egocentric mapping to equal representation) and right up to Google maps, and the issue of whether it is a good thing to monetise geography in this way.

Brotton finished by explaining that he is a also involved in a project for the 2015 Venice Biennale, where a 3D map of the world is being created, using hydrographic maps to accurately represent the seabed and depth, as well as a relief map of the land surface. The finished map will be around the size of a football pitch, and will then be flooded to show the correct sea level.

It's a fascinating subject, and I'm glad I went, although there wasn't much in the talk itself which was completely new to me - I think Prof. Brotton may have slightly underestimated the level of general knowledge about the subject (People mostly know that the Greeks and Egyptians etc. knew the world was a globe, don't they?) but it was, nevertheless, an interesting overview.
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My parents were here to visit this weekend.

I noticed a little while back that Kaffe Fassett was due to speak at Topping and Co in Bath, and knowing that my mum has been a long-term admirer of his work, I asked her if she would like to go, which she did, so I booked a couple of tickets, and she and my dad arranged to come for the weekend.

The event was on Friday night, and I found it interesting despite being there primarily to keep my mum company! (I like Fassett's work, but probably would not have chosen to go to the event if it were just me!)

The talk was as part of a tour to publicise his new autobiography, and he spoke about his journey from painter to knitter to quilter and embroiderer, his passion for colour. He showed 2 of his current works in progress (photos aren't very good, as we were sitting quite far back!)

It's clear he has a passion for his work, and a huge enthusiasm for his work, and for sharing it and encouraging others to explore their own creativity.

On Saturday, the three of us went to Stourhead for a walk. It was a lovely day - very cold, but bright and clear.

We started by walking up to the obelisk, and then walked down through the woods and around the lake.

There was a 'festival of song' taking place which meant that there were 3 or 4 choirs singing at
different places around the grounds, so there were faint echoes and the sound of distant song as we walked around.
There is a rather nice pub just outside the gardens, so we treated ourselves to a delicious lunch (and some totally unnecessary and extravagant desserts) and then went for a short further walk, as a result...

I noticed, for the first time, that the relief on the outside of the 'Temple of Flora' includes these rather nice ox skulls.

Detail, Temple of Flora
We'd timed it all well. As we left, it started to rain.

Sunday was a much quieter, lazy day. In the morning, we went into Frome, which was having it's 'Christmas Extravaganza' - the High Street was closed, and there were all the usual stallholders from the Farmer's Market together with various craft-stalls. After that, we spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading papers and such, finishing with a supper of venison casserole and an early night.

A most enjoyable weekend!
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I spent Saturday in London, enjoying a trip to the Royal Academy, to see their Bronze Exhibition, and then to Hampstead theatre to see '55 Days'

I has a slightly stressful start to the day, as the first of my two trains turned out, when I got to the station, to be running late, which seemed likely to cause me to miss my connection, but as it turned out, we made up a bot of time getting to Bath, the London train was slightly delayed too, so with a bit of running, I managed to catch the train, and even to find my seat (not an easy task, as the train was very crowded due to an earlier cancellation), so made it to London as originally planned.

The exhibition at the RA was fascinating. The curators have chosen to group the bronzes by theme, rather than chronologically or by region, so in the section devoted to 'figures' were examples of ancient Greek and Etruscan figures,(including the first piece in the exhibition, a glorious and beautiful 'dancing satyr', around 3,500 years old, found quite recently near Sciliy)

'Dancing Satyr' 

Also medieval saints, works by Ghiberti and Cellini,  images of the Buddha and figures from Benin.

Similarly, in the section devoted to 'Animals' there was a glorious Etruscan Chimera (from around 400BCE), as well as a Louise Bourgoise spider, a Baboon made by Picasso, an Elephant from China, and many others.


There were also sections titled 'groups' which included a Frderic Remington group of 4 cowboys on horseback, and also one of the most extraordinary pieces, the Trundholm 'Chariot of the Sun' which is beautiful in it's own right, as well as awe-inspiring for it's age and fragility (It's believed to have been made between 1,800 and 1,600 BCE

Trundholm Chariot of the Sun

I am so glad I managed to get to the exhibition - I know the RA managed to borrow pieces from all over the world for it (although Florence appears to have been particularly generous!)

'Damned Soul' Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, after Bernini

And of course, the 'poster boy', Soldani-Benzi's 'Damned Soul', which I feel sure must have inspired the 'weeping angels' (I felt safe visiting, there were so many people looking at it at all times...)

After visiting the exhibition, I headed across to the theatre, where, after a brief and welcome break for a sandwich (at one of the least stable tables I've encountered for some time)

I had booked my ticket because I wanted to see Mark Gatiss, and because I thought the play (which deals with the period leading up to the conviction and execution of Charles I, at the end of the English Civil War). I hadn't been the the Hampstead Theatre before, and had not realised that the play is by Howard Brenton, who also wrote 'Anne Boleyn, (which I saw earlier this year, and blogged about here)

Mark Gatiss as Charles I

It's a small theatre, with a central stage with entrances at both ends, which means that a lot of the time the actors don't face the audience - but once I got used to it I rather liked it - it makes you feel more engaged in what's going on on stage.

The play switches between the two main protagonists - Mark Gatiss's Charles I, arrogantly and utterly convinced of his own divine right to rule, and Douglas Henshall's Oliver Cromwell, equally sure of himself (perhaps with better reason) and, despite his talk of 'waiting on Providence', coming across as a far more canny politician.

Charles was presented in period costume, but all of the other characters were presented in (fairly) modern dress - with a 50s feel to it. Despite knowing the inevitable outcome the play still managed to be gripping, as the parliamentarians struggles with the issues of whether to put the King on trial, and if so, whether he should be executed, not to mention whether and how Parliament could try him, and whether the ends (putting him on trial) justified the means (Pride's Purge of Parliament, which effectively rigged the vote by ensuring that anyone who voted against the trail, first time round, being excluded from the second one...)

The performance I saw was the last but one of the run, so I can't advise you to grab tivkets and see it, but if it were still running, I would, as it was well worth seeing.

It was a long day, as I didn't get home till  around 9.30, but very enjoyable. I haven't any further theatre trips planned until the new year, now, so for the last \play of the year it was an excellent one to go out on!

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There seems to be a lot of sport on the telly at the moment, for some reason.

I did like Danny Boyle's big Olympic Opening - I hadn't planned to watch, as I'm not very interested in the Olympics, but there was bugger all else on the TV. However, I admit, I'm glad I did watch.(video  here)

I particularly liked the inclusion of the NHS/Children's books, as they are both things which I think the UK can be justifiably proud of, and to remind everyone that this is not just about the sport. I also loved the fact that the flame was lit by young and unknown athletes, and the beautiful dandelion clock effect of the lighting.

And I think it is wonderful that rather than banning participants from taking photos during rehearsals, or asking them to sign non-disclosure agreements, Danny Boyle simply asked everyone to keep things secret - and they did!

I admit I've been less interested in the actual sporting events, although I've seen little bits of the gymnastics, and of the dressage and showjumping, and I gather that the UK has been doing pretty well, which is nice for those who like that sort of thing.

It turns out that Royal Mail is issuing stamps to celebrate each gold medal (which is unusual - normally you have to be either dead or royal to be on a stamp), and they are also painting a pillar box gold in each gold medal winner's home town. Which is a nice idea. And I learned today that one of the gold medal winners, Ed McKeever, lives in Bradford on Avon, about 10 minutes drive from here. I may have to go to see his gold box when they paint it :-)  I'm also a little curious as to how long they will stay gold. I don't know how often post boxes are usually repainted.

More Art

Jun. 23rd, 2012 04:35 pm
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The AFP art show wasn't the only one I went to while I was in London; having a morning free after the gig, I looked into what exhibitions were on, and then headed down to The Queen's Gallery (which is tucked round the back of Buckingham Palace), where there was an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings.

They were absolutely fascinating, and beautiful. The drawings in the collection cover quite a lengthy period in da Vinci's life, and the exhibition explained how in the early sketches, he was very much influenced by the accepted wisdom about anatomy - showing, for instance, a man's spine connecting to his penis, and the woman's spine going into the womb, then in later works showing much more accurate pictures, although in some cases with inaccuracies based on extrapolation from animal dissections (animals presumably being easier to get hold of than people)

The exhibition also had side by side comparisons - modern medical models displayed along side Leonardo's drawings, which showed how accurate his observations were. Amazing.
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We had only hired the car for part of our holiday, and after our lazy beach day decided to make the most of it before returning it, by taking another trip to look at more ancient remains.
Our chosen destination was Sidyma (Dodurga), about an hour’s drive from Fethiye. It was described as being unspoilt, and as none of us had been there before, it seemed like a good idea. It was.

The village of Dodurga is small, and has grown up around the site of the ancient Lycian town of Sidyma – indeed, many of the houses have made use of bits of the ancient buildings (well, with all that handy dressed stone around, why wouldn’t you?) The village is reached by going up a long, narrow, partially un-tarmacked road, and if you are us, you overshoot and drive even further up by mistake, but the views are good so you don’t really mind)

Once we arrived, we parked next to a rather battered farm truck, and settled down on some bits of ruin under a mulberry tree to eat our picnic before we explored. As soon as we sat down, an older lady came out to great us, and, when we turned down her suggestion that we come to her ‘café’ ( a collection of small tables in her garden, with a handwritten sign advertising hot and cold drinks) she went away, to return a few minutes letter bringing dolma, which she insisted we take, and were delicious.
A few moments later she came out again, this time with a large jug of ayran, which we turned down as politely as we could, given our very limited Turkish. Ayran is very much an acquired taste, and not something which it’s very easy to drink just to be polite. However, happily she did not appear to be offended, but instead, disappeared again, and returned with çay, which we enjoyed (and she accepted our offer of some of our cherries, in return)
There was no request for, or suggestion of any payment, it was, it seemed, genuine kindness and hospitality.

Once we finished eating our lunch and drinking çay, we collected up the plate and glasses to return them. She then invited us into the house. She and her ?mother were interested in where we were from. They did, then, bring out some carved spoons and things, and some scarves, but with no pressure to buy anything! Before we left she gave us all bunches of mint picked from her garden.

After our lunch and çay, we went to look around the site – the path was stony, and some of the stones were obviously pieces of ruins – pillars and so forth – and there were other pieces in the wall.. then we came upon the first bits of building – a tomb repurposed as a field wall, others standing at random in the centre of fields, or built into a shed.
including a small building, or tomb, with a patterned ceiling still in place.
As we wandered further, we found a whole hill covered with tombs, some of which still had lots of visible carving and inscriptions.
None of it showed any sign of being curated – there were no signs, no fences, just the ruins, among the locals farm (there was one part of the site we didn’t explore, as the ruins were surrounded with ripe, but uncut barley.

We must have spent an hour or two exploring the site, climbing into a tomb or two, (and getting viciously stabbed by ultra-prickly thistles) it was fascinating. And there wasn’t another soul in sight for any of the time we spent exploring the place.

After we left Sidyma, we called in at one final Lycian / Roman site before heading home – this was Pinara, which is up a very steep, rocky road, with vertiginous drops down from the side of the road.

Pinara was very slightly more developed that Sidyma, in that there was a little hut at the entrance, with the inevitable elderly man and his backgammon-buddy to sell us entrance tickets. But as we hadn’t the right change he let all 3 of us in on 2 tickets, rather than try to make change for a large note!

We started by exploring the rock tombs. These were in a cliff, at the base of which there was a stream, populated by dragonflies on electric blue. Visiting the tombs involved a lot of scrambling around, and in some cases, into, the tombs. It was clear that bits of the cliffs fall down from time to time, but fortunately none of them fell on us.

There was wild thyme and mint and basil, and fig trees, and bougainvillea and hibiscus. Clambering up to the tombs I saw a little yellow snake, and later, as we walked along towards the ruined bathhouse we saw lizards and tortoises and jays, too.

The baths were almost completely ruined, but there was an amphitheatre which was almost complete, and very beautiful.

The entire site was huge, and we had it to ourselves. It was fascinating, and peaceful.
(more photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmarjorie/sets/72157630096976234/
marjorie73: (Default)
It's been unseasonably warm and sunny these past few days, and I've been doing a lot of driving. It does make a nice change to be driving to and from work in daylight and sunshine, and to be able to see some of the birds and animals which live around here.

I'm no Birdchick. My knowledge of birds is limited - mostly I classify them as:

- Little birds found on the birdfeeders
- giant feral pigeons
- Ducks
- suicidal pheasants
- Magpies
- Others.

However, in the past few days I've seen several which all fit into the '
'others' category -

On Friday there were a couple of herons - one flying, with it's neck all folded up, which always looks highly improbable to me, the other standing by a rhyne, oon the levels, very visable agaisnt the bright green new growth of reeds.

This evening, there was a peregrine falcon - possibly a young one, as it looked brown rather than grey.

There were also, this evening, some deer*

The prize, however, has to be the bird I saw on Monday evening, as I was driving home after a tiring, unexpected, and somewhat stressful afternoon in court (I was not expecting to be in court at all, but a mix up with listing and Counsel's diary meant that the person who should have gone, couldn't, so I needed to over it at short notice. Then instead of being there for about an hour, as expected, I was there 4 hours)

There was a lot of traffic, and it was slow, and I was hot, and tired, and hungry. Then, as I stopped in the queue of traffic caused by a large lorry trying to pass under a small bridge, I saw a Very Large Bird in the hedge-bottom next to me. At first glance I thought it might be a peahen, but it was the wrong shape and size, and much taller. It stood in the hedgebottom, looking indecisively at the road for a few moments, then turned and disappered back into the undergrowth.

The only thing I could think of which it might be was a Great Bustard - these birds were hunted to extintion in the UK in the 19th C, but they have been re-introduced to Salisbury Plain over the past 6 or 7 years (from Russia).
When I got home, I looked for pictures of the Bustard - I mostly know of it from the fact that it is the County Bird of Wiltshire - many years ago when I was a Brownie Guide we had a picture of the Bustard on our uniform to show we were from Wilthire (I was quite pleased when we moved to Somerset, and we got to have a Wyvern, instead!) They are not particularly attractive looking birds, and the one I saw looked, to be hoest, a bit gormless.

But I am pretty sure that it was a Bustard -the pictures I've found, such as the one on the BBC story here look exactly like the bird I saw, so I do not see what wlse it could have been.

I didn't see a wing-tag, so can't say how old it was or identify the individual bird, but I'm quite excited to have seen it.
*Yes, I know deer are not birds. But they are generally shy enough that seeing them always feels like an unexpected gift.
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If Sunday was all about history, on Monday I was expecting to be entertained, more than informed. I had a ticket to see Sandi Toksvig. I love her dry humour, and thoroughly enjoy her as host of ' Radio 4's News Quiz. I also missed seeing her when she was due to appear in Bath a couple of years ago, as she was ill and had to cancel, so was particularly pleased to see she was going to be at the Lit. Fest. this year.

Sandi is possibly Denmark's best known import to this country, (after bacon) - I am most familiar with her radio work, but she's also a regular columnist and has written a number of books. She admitted, when asked, that her upcoming book, Valentine Grey, has communalities with her other books "I used a lot of the same words. But in a different order". It's a novel set during the 2nd Boer War (1899). The eponymous heroine disguises herself as a man and joins a bicycle regiment and goes to war. Toksvig explained that she got the original idea to set a book in a bicycle regiment in the Boer War after seeing a memorial in (I think) Canterbury Cathedral. It fired her imagination, she wrote the novel, and then went back and found that the memorial which started the whole thing was, in fact, in remembrance of members of a bicycle regiment in a different war, and a diferent country....

She read a short extract from the book, about the first occasion Valentine tries on male clothes, and talked a little about the way clothes change the world - Pockets! Trousers!

the conversation wasn't limited to the book (which isn't out yet) but also encompassed comedy (and the terrible scandal of the 'cuts' joke she made on R4 last year.."It's the Tories who have put the "n" into cuts" which led on to talking about politics and politicians more generally, to Sandi’s childhood and her family.

When we got to the Q&A section she was asked about the Great Marmite Scandal (last year there were a lot of news headlines about marmite being banned in Denmark) Sandi explained that the Danes are not interested in Marmite because they have real food, like herring…

More than any of the other events I’ve attended this one felt like a conversation we were lucky enough to have joined, rather than a scripted ‘talk’.

After the event, I got Sandi to sign my copy of ‘Hitler’s Canary’, and she definitely wins the ‘friendliest author of the festival’ prize, too!

Two days later I was back at the Guildhall to listen to physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, talking about the “Golden Age of Arabic Science”.

He started by explaining that the “Dark Ages” between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Renaissance, were really only ‘Dark’ in western Europe, and that during this time, and in particular during the period from the 8th to 10th Centuries, Arabic was the language of Science, and Baghdad was the centre of the scientific world. Harun al-Rashid, the Caliph, was tolerant and encouraged scholars within his empire.

This wasn’t a solely Islamic phenomenon; although Islam did feed into a great deal of the science; for instance, the need to be able to accurately locate Mecca was one of the motives for work on astronomy, cartography and geometry, but the Caliphate welcomed scholars from other countries and religions, and extensive work was done to translate earlier scientific writings such as those of Aristotle, Euclid and Galen.

I think it’s fairly well known that the word algebra comes from the Arabic. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi wrote a book ; Kitab al-jebra, which set out the principals of solving algebraic equations, and which ultimately became Latinised to ‘algebra’, but what we learned was that the word ‘algorithm’ comes from the latinisation of al – Khwarizmi’s name – he was known as Algorithmus!

There was also Ibn Sina (980-1037) whose name was Latinised as Avicenna, and whose ‘Canon of Medicine’ and ‘Book of Healing’ became the standard medical texts for the next 700 years, and, like other Arabic texts, spread into the west as Arabic texts were translated into Latin.

Al-Khalili is clearly enthusiastic about the subject, and his interest comes over very clearly, and he managed to make what could be a dry subject accessible and interesting even to a non-physicist such as myself.
marjorie73: (Default)
Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum was fascinating, but many of the paintings and
mosaics, as well as other artifacts such as glass, silver, and household items
have been removed, and are now in the Museo Archeologico Natzionale in Naples, so I decided to take a day-trip into the city to visit the museum.
It's housed in an imposing building, (originally built as a university) and includes a vast 'Great Hall of The Sundial' which holds an ancient statue of Atlas, carrying the globe which is itself carved with depictions of the zodiac. (The sundial in question is set into the floor, and lit by a hole in one corner of the hall, and is, as far as I could make out, designed to show mid day at different seasons, rather than to measure the hours each day.
Alexander the Great - Mosaic from the 'House of the Faun', Pompeii (detail)
Quite a few sections of the museum are closed, including, to my regret, the section holding the 'Farnese gems' (mainly cameos) and some of the Pompeii paintings, but I was able to see the mosaics from Pompeii, which are extraordinary. I think that the mosaic showing the battle between Alexander the Great, and King Darius is probably the most famous, and it is utterly amazing, but the others are pretty impressive, too.
Octopus vs. Lobster (detail of mosaic from the House of The Faun, Pompeii)
I liked the seafood mosaic, and little details of several of the others - this spiky-toothed hippo, for example, and the cat, lurking below a birdbath.

There are also mosaic-decorated pillars, more cats, another guard-dog mosaic.

Another room worth visiting is the 'Gabinetto segreto' (secret room). This is not so much secret as segregated - it contains lots of erotic art - originally, in the early 19th Century, the room was closed, and only those who were "of mature age and well known morality" were granted permits to view the "infamous
monuments of heathen licentiousness

It was then open during the Garibaldi period, and closed under the fascist regime, until 1967! Now it is open again, although there is a sign outside in four or five languages warning it may not be suitable for younger visitors..

Some of the artworks, such as the 'Venus in a golden bikini' are quite unexceptional.

Others, however, such as the statue of Pan with a she-goat, are more startling, to modern eyes! 

There are also paintings taken from one of the lupanares (brothels) in Pompeii, with paintings showing different acts and positions, and various Herms, votive offerings (how often do you see a cupboard entirely full of penises?) and paintings, mosaics and statues leaving nothing to the imagination!

After which it was quite soothing to go and look at charming, if at times confusing, paintings from Pompeii - a cupid with a pair of shoes, for instance.
Portrait of the baker, Terentius
Neo, and his wife
They also have selections of decorative silver, found at Pompeii (it survived intact having been stored in a chest, padded with blankets, possibly because the house was in the process of being reconstructed following the earthquake of  62AD. More amazingly, there are also glass items, and even papyrii which, despite the fact that they are seriously burned, archaeologists have succeeded in reading!

As well as the Pompeian art,
there are also lots of sculptures, some of which were also found in Pompeii or Herculaneum

This lady -> is one of five statues found at Herculaneum, and
still pristine.

One of the most famous sculptures in the museum is the 'Farnese Bull', which used to stand in Rome.

It is colossal. 

And while I can't approve of celebrating the habit of tying ladies to
enraged bulls, (even if they have been misbehaving) you have to admire the craftsmanship involved!

As you do with the other sculptures.

(the dog, incidentally, is part of a table leg. He is one of
the 3-heads of a dog emerging from the stomach of the sea-monster, Scylla, attacking Ulysses' sailors. But you probably knew that.)

all in all, it's a fascinating museum, and I'm very glad that I had the time and opportunity to go.
marjorie73: (Default)

A little while ago I saw this article in the Guardian about The Book Barge, and saw that it would be visiting Bradford on Avon (this weekend) and Bath (next week).

as it happened , I had to go over to Bradford on Avon so I had the perfect opportunity to go to see the Barge.

I saw on Twitter that owner/skipper Sarah needed milk, so picked up a pint on my way in, then strolled along through the park. On my way, I passed a wedding party, a posh picnic featuring champagne and strawberries, a group of children paddling in the river with a large dog of indeterminate breed, and a cricket match - in fact, practically everything (other than a sudden rain-storm) which you might expect of a British summer!

The barge is wonderful - there's an excellent selection of new and used books, plus mugs, cards, postcards and (at least if you turn up bearing milk!) the offer of a nice cup of tea and some banana bread!

I left with three new-to-me books, and felt I had an excellent bargain, as Sarah insisted on my having one of the books in barter for the milk (I feel sure I got the best out of that deal!) If the Book Barge goes anywhere near you, go visit it!
Oh, and the blackberries? I made another small batch last night/this morning - I ended up with a smaller volume of jelly this time - only one and a half jars, but then picked another couple of pounds of berries this morning, which have now reached the 'hang up to strain for at least 12 hours' stage of the recipe so I should be able to pot this batch 1st thing tomorrow morning.
At this rate I may have to bake some scones, soon, in order to have something to eat bramble jelly off!


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