Category Archives: Oxford: The Perspiring Dream

Super Exhibition Saturday: Ice & Diamonds

All you London based culture vultures might want to check out two interesting exhibitions in our fair capital over the next month or so.

The first is called ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley‘ at the Royal Geographic Society. The Enduring Eye exhibition will open to the public on Saturday 21 November, exactly 100 years to the day that the crushed Endurance sank beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, and run until 28 February 2016.

The RGS website describes how, as one of the first truly modern documentary photographers and film-makers, Australian born Hurley hoped to have his images seen at as large scale size as possible. 100 years later, this intention will be honoured with giant dimension prints, some over 2 metres in width and height, at the heart of the exhibition, providing viewers with a sense of awe and wonder.

In addition to the newly digitised images, the exhibition will include a number of ‘precious survivors’ – personal artefacts that were carried through every stage of the successive journeys for survival from the Weddell Sea to Elephant Island and onto South Georgia.

The second collection of objects of wonder can be found in The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Bejewelled Treasures‘ exhibition, which also opens to the public on Saturday.

More than 100 objects owned by Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, have been loaned to the V&A for the show, which explores 400 years of Indian jewellery. It is being exhibited as part of the museum’s India festival.

As well as the objects from the Al Thani collection, our Queen has lent three pieces from the crown jewels including the spectacular “Timur ruby”. This ‘ruby’ is a source of much intrigue since it was never actually owned by Timur and is not even a ruby. (It is in fact a very large, 352-carat spinel, a type of red stone found in Badakhshan.)  The spinel was owned by Jahangir in the 17th century, and in 1851 it was given to Queen Victoria after the British annexed the Punjab. It seems a trifle odd to me to have your country ‘annexed’ only to then send a whacking great jewel to your new Empress, but it’s a nice touch.


Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 17.36.10


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The Perspiring Dream…

Sometimes I would love to know what goes through the minds of Oxford University’s administrators… and indeed the City Planning Department. I imagine it’s something like this: “I know, we have been building staggeringly beautiful buildings for nigh on a thousand years; let’s have a spate of really ugly ones, just for a change? After all the 1960’s produced some beauties didn’t they?Old Oxford New Oxford

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Menus and Options…

Menus can be difficult things. Sitting in our local pub at the weekend, Becky and I were astounded by the total nonsense they had cluttered their menu with; so many superfluous words, ‘quirky’ descriptions of pub grub staples, and wildly inappropriate (and probably misleading… but we did not actually eat there) terminology for a menu. I like having a good grumble about these things as much as the next boozer bound miserable old codger, but I thought I would do some research into the ‘theory’ of menus. It transpires it is something of a science.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm adherent to the school of thought of using many words when one would do nicely, but something about a pie being described as “friendly” gets my hackles up. Nor indeed could a limp lump of chicken, fried to within an inch of its very existence in a greasy pub kitchen in Oxford, best be described as “Authentic”, and please don’t get me started on why burgers have to be served on a stray roof tile or plywood plinth. And breathe.

Anyhow, in a really informative article in New York Magazine, William Poundstone dissects the marketing tricks built into menus—for example, how something as simple as typography can drive you toward or away from that £39 steak, and explains puzzles, anchors, stars, and plowhorses. So now we know. It’s well worth a read, but sadly wont stop your “sun drenched, dressing drizzled, superfood, hand pulled, artisanal, 120% corn fead beef patty” (aka the beef burger) arriving on a Ford Escort’s hubcap, or rusty garden trowel.

trowel plate

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The malady of malapropism

A good friend of mine is constantly on the lookout for incorrect grammar and idiotic use of idiom. So much so it has become something of a sport for me to try to squeeze in as many malapropisms as possible during dialogue, sending him into fits of frustration and incandescent rage. It is fun, there is little else to amuse us in Oxford, and I enjoy upsetting his apple tart.

So, if you ride a tantrum bicycle, keep a fire distinguisher handy, always read the destructions, suffer pigments of your imagination, are the very pineapple of politeness, or have spread dysentery among the ranks, you might enjoy this list of common mistakes. It peaked my interest.

intensive porpoise


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The Maharaja and the Monarch

A good friend of mine, San Cowan, has just published a brilliant article about a visit to the UK by The Nepalese Maharaja Chandra Shum Shere Rana in 1908. His research is first rate, and the article describes how the Maharaja forged close ties in the UK, especially the former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Curzon was Chancellor of Oxford at the time of the meeting, and The Bodleian was recipient of a substantial number of texts thanks to the intervention of the Maharaja. These are used to this day.


A full copy of Sam’s article can be found here.

SS Chandra Group

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Bloodhound and the Traffic Wardens

Despite this being parked on Keble Road this afternoon, I did not see one Traffic Warden proffering their usual friendly Penalty Notices. Still with a top speed in excess of 1000mph (no, that’s not a typo) catching Bloodhound might be an issue. Until it reaches to a corner…





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Turning to Turner

You may recall a few months ago I found the site where Turner painted his famous Fighting Temeraire.
Turner PlaqueI have always admired Turner’s paintings, and often wondered what he was like as a person as I amble past his former home on St John’s Street, just round the corner from my home. I had him down as a tall angular figure, probably dressed in green velvet, obsessive about colours and light, and who was prone to periods of mania and melancholy.

So I was naturally keen to see Mike Leigh’s new biography of the eccentric painter current topping the UK’s box offices. In an interview on the Kermode and Mayo radio show (if you dont subscribe, you have no idea what you are missing…) Leigh described how he had tried to recreate the life and person of the painter from diaries, letters, and had paid close attention to his recorded mannerisms and eccentricities. Leigh has described Turner as “a great artist: a radical, revolutionary painter,” explaining, “I felt there was scope for a film examining the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world.”

Timothy Spall is unsurprisingly brilliant in the titular role. He appears is thoroughly convincing as a character, and portrays his mannerisms, cadence, and gruff exterior magnificently. My only criticism might be that he sometimes edges close to an almost Churchillian impression of Turner, and waddles more like the penguin from Batman than might be strictly necessary.

The film naturally features some stunning locations including Petworth House, Welsh Hills, Dutch landscapes and Kingsand stands in as a more picturesque Margate. The cast supports Spall well, but he is rarely off screen, and it has received rave reviews… even an Oscar tip for Best Actor and Director. One is left with a feeling of unease owing to his relationship, and I for one could not make up my mind if I liked Leigh’s Turner, or thought him abhorrent. I am not sure it should be watched as a biographical depiction of the great artist, more an opportunity to spend time in his world. There is little actual plot, but the narrative wanders along pleasantly, and you do get a good impression of the world in which he lived and worked. And if that makes us appreciate and understand his works all the more, it can be no bad thing.

Spall as Turner

And “Hello to Jason Isaacs.”

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