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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Back in April, Mervyn King announced that Winston Churchill would be replacing Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note.

There is, I imagine, little argument about the significance of Churchill’s contribution to British history, nor his suitability for a place on one of our bank notes. I am sure, too, that this was meant to be swansong gesture designed to fix King in our memories as the man who put Churchill in our pockets. However, he rather runs the risk of being remembered as the man who sought to remove women from the faces of our bank notes.

Thank goodness for the Canadians (more on that in a moment). Principally, though, thank goodness for Caroline Criado-Perez who, on spotting the implications of what the bank was planning, started an online petition through change.org to force the bank to rethink. Her campaign was featured in The Guardian, on the BBC and in The Telegraph.

Her reasoning was simple and right:

“An all-male line-up on our banknotes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear. This is patently untrue. Not only have numerous women emerged as leading figures in their fields, they have done so against the historic odds stacked against them which denied women a public voice and relegated them to the private sphere – making their emergence into public life all the more impressive and worthy of celebration.”

And she has pulled it off.

Today, Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, announced that Jane Austen would be the face of the new ten pound note.

Why does any of this matter?

Because it does.

Because it is not right for an institution as central to the organisation of our economic and political life as the Bank of England to believe it can operate in its own entitled bubble, failing to recognise that this country has been built on the hard work of men and women, the latter often, as Criado-Perez says, with the historic odds against them. I would go further and say that their hard work has often been in the face of hostility from privileged men who have struggled to reconcile themselves to the reality that politics, the workplace and the economy are as much the domains of women as they are of men.

If you think that such attitudes are a thing of the past, take a moment to think how on earth the Bank of England reach a position where no women were to be recognised on its bank notes? In Mervyn King’s own words at the time of the Churchill announcement: “Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons.” It is clear from that the pictures are intended as a statement of significance. In 2010 there were around £48 billion pounds’ worth of notes in circulation. That is a lot of pieces of paper.

So why at no point did anyone appear to say to King: “Er, why are they all men?”

How did the design teams, the PR department, senior management and the Governor’s own office, not to mention King himself, let it happen?

It could, of course, be accident. However, most institutions and companies have strict policies and procedures to avoid such obvious idiocies. Or it could, of course, be a sub-concious, corporate mindset that still downplays the contribution of women in our national life in comparison to the contributions of men.

The sad reality is that entitlement and casual discrimination is still a force to be reckoned with, whether it is on our bank notes or, more banally, on our station platforms. Take a look at Everyday Sexism and its twitter feed to see a depressing stream of witless and offensive behaviour that demonstrates how disrespectful we still are to each other as a society.

Society looks to its leading institutions to lead change. When they fail, it takes the active grass roots of society to put pressure on those institutions.

Thank you Caroline Criado-Perez for saving us from looking like idiots.

And thank you Mark Carney for listening. (Now there’s just the little matter of the Canadian banknotes from which he removed women. Perhaps he was attempting to make amends for that as well as King’s faux pas?)

You can read the Bank of England background note on Jane Austen here.

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Scientists and historians have done their best to debunk the Curse of the Pharaoh, the inspiration for plenty of hammy horror movies and said to be the cause of death of Lord Carnarvon, the sponsor of Howard Carter’s expedition into the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Arguments have been made in the pages of the Lancet for aspergillosis, basically a fungal spore infection. Egyptologist Dominic Montserrat believed that it originated with a very odd 19th Century London twist on the traditional striptease, where actual mummies were unwrapped on stage.

So whilst the world’s finer minds have done their best to banish the spooky imaginings of over-imaginative teenage adventurers, experts are at a loss to satisfactorily explain the strange phenomena of an ancient Egyptian statue that seems to turn all by itself.

The statue of Neb Sanu stands 10″ tall and has been with Manchester Museum for eighty years. Resident Egyptologist Campbell Price noticed one day it had turned round so put it back in its place. The next day it had moved again. Price decided to set up a time lapse camera to record it.

Renown physicist Brian Cox has said it is probably caused by differential friction, the footsteps of visitors causing vibrations that, together with imperfections in the glass and the statue’s inertia, cause it to rotate. Price is quick to remind us that this explanation would make sense if the statue hadn’t sat in the same place for years.

The romantic in me likes the idea of there being some sort of mystical explanation. The rationalist in me accepts it is probably some strange quirk of physics.

Whatever the explanation, it makes for one hell of a time-lapse video.

 

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Old Pictures Prompted By A Morning’s Frost

A sepia dawn reveals

a two-tone world,

surrendering colour to

frost’s brush,

reminding us of

long ago, of men in

hats with scythes

and Threshing Bees.


A cruel cold heralds

a quiet kill,

testifying intent with

frost’s knife,

reminding us of

long ago, of men in

helms with guns

and Yellow Legs.

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A few days ago I couldn’t help post up the Horrible Histories take on Vikings and their great soft rock ballad. This time it’s Dick Turpin who gets the rock history treatment – and did you know he was caught out by his handwriting? Nor did I!

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BBC History magazine had an article in its Christmas edition on the dangerous games played by children in Tudor England. With fond recollections of my own childhood games I was curious to see what mischief our ancestors got up.

True enough, some of the stories were very sad, recounting how children had met their unfortunate demise whilst playing, but the games themselves were nothing special or dangerous. Rather, youngsters then, as now, met tragedy in a pond or lake or with an item falling on top of them.

Somehow, on reflection, my own childhood games seem rather more hazardous. Weekends were an adventure playground.

There was “Stick Wars”, where four of us would split into two teams of two and roam the local woods, Coombe Wood, with its “Creepy Copse” or the “Sandy Hills” tucked away in a bushy enclave on Westley Heights and the product of centuries of toil by local badgers. (It was years before it was I realised it was “Creepy Copse” and not “Creepy Cops”, the tall pines giving me small-child nightmare images of evil tree-police ready to snatch us out of the evening gloom). There we would give ourselves a “time out” to gather suitably-sized and suitably-shaped sticks and twigs that could be flung at each other. These turned into mammoth reconnaissance efforts, donning second-hand army fatigues and wellies, buying walkie-talkies, and making clear to families and walkers up from the town and trying to enjoy a little countryside that these were our woods.

What little horrors we were.

My regular partners in games were my brother and two eldest cousins, Matt and Sarah, and we spent virtually every weekend together between the ages of six and sixteen. As the years went by, we added my sister Ellie and odd friends (odd as in random, not odd, though some were certainly quirky – eh, Bob?). It was either Matt and me or Sarah and me, never siblings together, and we could spend a goodly while deciding what mischief to get up to. Back then, 2pm to 5pm was a significant portion of a life-time and seemed to last forever.

We were lucky in that both families had extensive gardens with an adjacent field, very differently shaped, but both sporting a tremendous variety of sheds, trees, nooks, crannies, and hidey-holes.

Sticks were reserved for public spaces. For our own gardens, and depending on the season, we opted for acorns and apples, knowing that one of those catching you on the leg would sting like hell or leave a splendid, thumping bruise. We’d skulk about gathering windfalls and stashing caches of ammunition under bushes and in old coal scuttles. And then we would unleash the pain, always bemused when a glancing blow to the head reduced one of us to tears and drew down the wrath of one or other set of parents.

On one memorable occasion we were joined by Horst, a rather severe and strong German who was the brother of a friend’s friend, who rather missed the point of these games with their stealth and dexterously-flung missiles. Instead, he appeared on the brow of a hill carrying a tree trunk and yelling who-knows-what in German at the top of his voice as he charged us down. Thank goodness for Matthew and his Herculean strength, who managed to flatten him in spectacular style.

Elastic bands – the thicker variety that are rarely seen today – were strung together in threes, fours and even fives to make lethal catapults for firing gravel from the drive or grit from a felt roof. We perfected weapons with ranges of a solid two or three hundred feet, if the trajectory was suitably angled and the bands powerful enough. A careful watch was kept for parents who might not appreciate the stones peppering the lawn and dulling the blades of the Mountfield mower.

Field cricket was a potentially lethal affair. Many lazy days were spent playing cricket in “the field” under sweltering Summer suns, on a full length wicket with a makeshift backing net of fruit bush netting or chicken wire. We played with leather and willow, no fear – and no pads and gloves (except when Brian, my friend and neighbour, invested in them, tired of his bruises and in receipt of more pocket money than the rest of us). But the pitch was uneven and I liked to bowl. Having reached six foot early and being an adept strike bowler, I spent hours learning where the ball bounced best for maximum impact and avoiding the ditch on the run-up. When dusk became twilight and the light impossible for finding balls in bushes or under blackthorn we would retire scratched, exhausted and happy, ready to resume the next day.

Then, finally, there was “That Game”, so infamous we still recall it today with a wistful, evil glint in the eye, which is still spoken of in hushed terms, and which we wonder if even at our age we could perhaps play one last time. Were there any rules? Probably. I recall a violent combination of British Bulldog, the tag variants of off-ground touch and run-outs, and wrestling. It was best played in the dark, outside, torches both a boon and curse. How no-one ended up cracking open a skull on the stone wood bunker which served as a base at Matt and Sarah’s place I have no idea.

So. Sod the Tudors. Langdon Hills in twentieth century Essex is where the dangerous games were at.

We’re just lucky we survived.

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It is sometimes shocking to sit and think how quickly technology has come on in just a few short years. Photography is something I have always enjoyed, being brought up on Dad’s slides and even his own attempts to create a dark room in the attic.

I remember my first Kodak camera with its stacked, one-use-per-bulb flash, and how proud I was to finally be able to take my own pictures. It had no zoom, no focus and used what I regarded as proper film. (Funny how whatever it is you start with you regard as proper film, at least until you grow up and start using standard 35mm.) I remember, too, getting my first Olympus, sadly rarely used, and the pictures I took with it on my honeymoon less than ten years ago, when there was no imminent prospect of digital superseding plastics and silver salts.

Now, most of us have phones that can take better pictures than even the most expensive digital cameras of ten years ago, with top-end digital cameras such as the Canon EOS 7D or EOS 5D Mk II being so sophisticated that they can replace movie cameras, opening up the world of movie-making to amateurs the world over.

The Light Farm are an enthusiast co-operative “dedicated to the renaissance of handcrafted silver gelatin emulsions”.  They have got their hands on a historic film by Kodak, which details the process of making film.

Enjoy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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I have an eclectic musical taste that roams the genres and I can find myself listening to anything from Finzi and Mozart, to Counting Crows, The Jayhawks, Guns N’Roses, Linkin Park and Sick Puppies, all via the Pet Shop Boys, “Ibiza dance” and Lady Ga Ga. Not forgetting of course Led Zeppelin, U2, Nightwish, The Village People etc etc…

Nothing gets to me though quite like John Denver and there is one album in particular that defines him for me: Poems, Prayers and Promises.

It was his fourth album and every song is an acoustic musical masterpiece (except “The Box”, Kendrew Lascelles’s stunning anti-war poem, read with genuine agony by Denver on the last track of side two). His beautiful tenor soars and swoops, occasionally tinged with a spine-tingling melancholy, and the lyrics are homely, humbling and thought-provoking without being trite.

Perhaps it is because it is the first non-classical record I heard Mum and Dad play that it means so much to me. Perhaps it is because it conjures safe memories of lying on the carpet in pools of dappled sunlight, thinking that days like that could never end. Perhaps it is because it has been the soundtrack to many a long car journey to Cornwall. Or perhaps it is because its calm simplicity lets me find my centre, even in the hardest times.

John Denver died in 1997. What a beautiful legacy to leave.

From “Poems, Prayers and Promises”

The days they pass so quickly now

Nights are seldom long

And time around me whispers when it’s cold

The changes somehow frighten me

Still I have to smile

It turns me on to think of growing old

For though my life’s been good to me

There’s still so much to do

So many things my mind has never known

I’d like to raise a family

I’d like to sail away

And dance across the mountains on the moon


I have to say it now

It’s been a good life all in all

It’s really fine

To have the chance to hang around

And lie there by the fire

And watch the evening tire

While all my friends and my old lady

Sit and watch the sun go down


And talk of poems and prayers and promises

And things that we believe in

How sweet it is to love someone

How right it is to care

How long it’s been since yesterday

What about tomorrow

What about our dreams

And all the memories we share

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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