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Archive for the ‘Wibble’ Category

Today we honour the memory of a most courageous and remarkable academic – the archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad – who was murdered in cold blood at the cowardly hands of ISIS in his homeland of Syria. His crime? Refusing to give up the secret locations of Palmyra’s antiquities which he had hidden from their vandalistic intent. One can only wonder at such bravery and dedication. Dedication to his craft. Dedication to the honour of his home town, Palmyra, and to Syria. Dedication to History.

Khaled al-Asaad, the Director of Antiquities and Museum in Palmyra, in 2002.

As London Historians we have little in common with him in the narrowest sense but everything in common as historians. It’s a je suis Khaled thing. We would urge those in a better position than us to condemn and reject the agenda of ISIS by honouring this man in a meaningful and concrete way. The most appropriate institutions in England to do this should be led, of course, by the British Museum. Other guardians of antiquities such as the Ashmolian and Fitzwilliam museums should join in. They could each name a room after him or at least mount a plaque in his memory. How about the Khaled al-Asaad Annual Lecture? Please add your ideas in Comments, below, and use #HonourKhaled on Twitter.

I’d go further and suggest that this crime of ISIS, which contrasts so starkly al-Asaad’s sacrifice, deserves an even wider and bolder response. Every museum and gallery, every history, classics, antiquities and archaeological faculty and institution – here and elsewhere – should make a gesture in defiance of the ISIS agenda.

From us at London Historians: Khaled al-Asaad, we salute you.

The Murder of Khaled al Asaad.
The Guardian
The Telegraph
The Spectator
BBC News

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Today we had a lovely London Historians outing to the Watts Gallery and Watts Cemetery Chapel in Compton, Surrey. I’m hoping other members of our group will write about it the main attractions of the day.

In the cemetery itself is the family grave of the Huxley family, as in Aldous. It’s the last resting place of the author himself, he having died in the USA in 1963 (22 November, same day as JFK).

Aldous Huxley grave, ComptonLook at the writing below Huxley’s name. You can barely make it out. But it says “And Maria his wife, 1898 – 1955. ” Someone has deliberately removed the metal inlay, someone presumably not a fan of Maria Nys, Huxley’s first wife. Does anyone know the reason? Or have a theory?

Aldous Huxley grave, Compton.

Before we leave the Huxleys, I must share with you an unintendedly hilarious letter written by Huxley to George Orwell in 1949, congratulating him on Nineteen Eighty-Four, but explaining too why Brave New World is superior. (HT: LH Member Will Watts.)

Update: Two of our Members have done lovely write-ups of our outing, completely different perspectives, and both with beautiful photos (mind you, hard to fail, given the subject matter!). Caroline Derry here. (follow this excellent blog). And novelist Wendy Wallace here. (buy her new novel The Sacred River!). And finally we get to the main reason for our trip: Tina tells us about the Frank Holl exhibition.

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Did you know that the humble scotch egg was invented in 1738 at Piccadilly swanky grocers, Fortnum and Mason? That’s the claim, anyway, and nobody as far as I’m aware has successfully refuted it.

So yesterday I popped in, as you do, went down to the Lower Ground where they sell meats and treats. “How much are the scotch eggs?” I enquire, resisting the the temptation naffly to add “my good man”.

“£2.75.”

Well, it is Fortnum’s. I ordered a brace. So are they four times as good as ones you get in the supermarket? Or even your local butcher? I am happy to report that, most definitely, they are. Note how thick the sausage meat is and how it goes all the way to the egg. And the meat itself is lovely, a bit like cumberland sausage, I guess. So in this case, you do get what you pay for.

scotch egg.

Meaty.

You may disagree, but in my view the best relish to have with scotch egg is good old British brown sauce.

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Today it was announced that the Palace of Westminster would not, after all, be making an entry charge to the Clock Tower to visit Big Ben. Not until 2015, in any case. The House of Commons Commission seemingly backed down after protests from a group of MPs. The suggested ticket price was £15. Yes one-five pounds.

Instead of coming up with a sensible and fair price, the default position was immediately to fleece the punter. Why? Because they can, and there’s plenty of precedent. The Monument – a not dissimilar experience, I would suggest – charges a sensible £3, and I look forward to going up there soon. Most boutique museums and “lesser” historic sites tend to charge £5 – 7. Fair enough. My nearest, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, charges £10. A tad pricy, perhaps, but your ticket does at least last for 12 months. I wish more museums would do this.

Sites which were once free but have recently introduced entry charges are the Temple Church (£3, I think, info not available on their web site) and Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (£7). Not too bad, on the face of it, but again, once the charging principle has been established, price inflation is much easier to implement: the thin end of the wedge.

Remember Kew Gardens. It famously used to cost a penny to get in. When I first visited in the early 80s this had gone up to a few shillings, I can’t remember the exact amount. Today it costs a whopping £13.90. Other entry prices I find quite frankly shocking, include: Tower of London, £20.90; Hampton Court Palace, £16.95; St Paul’s, £14.50; Westminster Abbey, £16.00.

Now, I am a believer in the free market and the idea that you can price anything at what the market will bear, supply and demand and all that. But there are punters out there who will, for example, stump up £150 or more from a tout for a ticket to see, I dunno, let’s say U2 or Blur. Doesn’t make it right. No, my problem is that residents of this country, and Londoners in particular, are being priced out of big swathes of their heritage. And I include myself in this, incidentally. I strongly believe there should be a two-tier pricing system to take this into account.

Thankfully, many of our biggest museums and galleries are still free, and I congratulate them and the government for maintaining this situation. Long may it continue. My favourites are the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

What do you think about ticket pricing in our museums and heritage attractions? Do you know of other examples of charging being introduced?

*Prices cited here are from the relevant web sites of attractions themselves at time of writing.

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Every few years or so, I sense that my writing has been deteriorating, and I return to a good style guide for a thorough detox. So highly do I rate these self-help books, that I have none in the house. The reason for this is that at some time I have lent my copies to friends and we all know what happens when you lend your books. The most cherished of these were The Economist Style Guide and the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather’s in-house book, which was given to me by a friend who once worked for them. It was quite superb and very amusing – a grievous loss because it cannot be replaced. The excellent Economist book has always been on sale to the public, so I shall have to buy a replacement soon, possibly for the second time.

It seems that the Economist had its style guide online until just recently. Their web site states that it was recently “lost” when they rebuilt their web site, but will be back soon. The Guardian has a style guide, but I can’t find one online. Their printed version is for sale. The Telegraph does have a comprehensive house guide online. I understand that it was mostly – possibly wholly – compiled by their erstwhile columnist, Simon Heffer. It’s a good and useful read, quite in contrast to Heffer’s recent book Strictly English, which I found really turgid, bad tempered,  and impossible to finish.

What I like about style guides is that the good ones are both educational and entertaining. On the one hand they help you avoid error and improve sentence construction etc. But because much of what they say is inevitably subjective – doctrinaire even – they can both strengthen your prejudices (in a good way, I like to think) or induce indignant disagreement.  That’s the entertainment value.

Do you have a style guide to recommend? Please let us know.

Update 17/10/2011
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! A dear friend, reading this, realised that he had my lost style guides, buried beneath a pile of his Open University books. Being an honourable fellow (else I would not have lent them to him in the first place), he immediately fessed up and the prodigal tomes arrived in the post today, with a sheepish note.

style guides

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A little while ago, a friend of mine – Ealing man and London Historian member Rian Hughes – made a logo for London, taking his lead from the I [heart] NY idea Stateside. I think it is the perfect symbol for the riot aftermath. Rian is one of our leading designers and illustrators and a proud Londoner. I spoke to him this morning, he got caught up in it all trying to get home last night from Heathrow. He is happy for anyone to use his logo in the context of riot clean-up etc. provided you retain the attribution. For any other use or licensing, please contact Rian via his web site, here:

Rian Hughes’ web site
Rian Hughes logos

london logo by rian hughes devicelondon logo by rian hughes devicelondon logo by rian hughes devicelondon logo by rian hughes device

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ye olde cheshire cheeseThis is a venerable pub in Fleet Street. Built in 1667, it was a popular watering hole of Johnson, Boswell and countless writers and journalists down the centuries. It hasn’t been spoiled, that is to say, modernised. No piped music, fruit machines, televisions. The restaurant is well-run, food is good and reasonably priced and as for the price of a pint: £2.20 for a pint of Sam Smiths. What’s not to like?

For these reasons, we had a try-out session last Wednesday for a monthly, informal gathering of London Historians, friends and, well, anyone who wanted to come. And so a most excellent bunch turned up and we spent several happy hours talking history and for me personally, getting to know better our members whom I didn’t have the chance to at our launch party last month.

She who knows all about Georgian London, Lucy Inglis, reached into her pocket and wafted an old spoon before placing it on the table. “What is this?” she asked, in best show-and-tell style, “it dates from 1794”. We squinted at the markings and a small, worn engraving of a ship. Turns out it was from the dinner service of Lord Nelson himself, and (the Antiques Roadshow moment), is worth easily in excess of £2000. If I owned such a thing, I would use it with my breakfast cereal every day.

 

nelson's spoon

The Admiral's Spoon (good pub name?)

London Historians

Happy historians

So. That was fun. The idea is to do this on the first Wednesday of each month, from 6:30 pm. If you’d like to join us, the next one is 4 May. I shall try not to bore you with why AV is a Bad Idea before you cast your No vote the following day.

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