Category Archives: Timology
Manifold things in life amaze me. Many things in life amuse me. But quite why anyone would want to re-print an hundred year old undergraduate thesis is quite beyond my ken. However, those nice people at the Folio Society have produce a sneaky 240 page edition of T E Lawrence’s lesser known work; Crusader Castles. And it is is a thing of some beauty.
As an undergraduate at Jesus College in 1909, Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’.
After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence decided to cross Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.‘
It seem that many of the hallmarks of his later career were already stamped this precocious undergraduate. I have always wanted to go and see the crusader castles of Syria and the Holy Land, but for some reason Becky does not seem as keen. Who knows, she might be more excited by my idea of going on holiday to the salt marshes of Iraq? Maybe?
Oh, and by the way, his painting still hangs in the dining room at Jesus College (see below), and the Bod still has his original thesis and notes (MSS. Eng. c. 6743, e. 3301)… if you can’t afford the Folio Society’s nice reprint.
I just love this. Thank you Douglas Adams. Thank you for making the world just a little bit better.
The Shoe Event Horizon is an economic theory that draws a correlation between the level of economic (and emotional) depression of a society and the number of shoe shops the society has.
The theory is summarized as such: as a society sinks into depression, the people of the society need to cheer themselves up by buying themselves gifts, often shoes. It is also linked to the fact that when you are depressed you look down at your shoes and decide they aren’t good enough quality so buy more expensive replacements. As more money is spent on shoes, more shoe shops are built, and the quality of the shoes begins to diminish as the demand for different types of shoes increases. This makes people buy more shoes.
The above turns into a vicious cycle, causing other industries to decline.
Eventually the titular Shoe Event Horizon is reached, where the only type of store economically viable to build is a shoe shop. At this point, society ceases to function, and the economy collapses, sending a world spiralling into ruin. In the case of Brontitall and Frogstar World B, the population forsook shoes and evolved into birds.
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
Roald Dahl- My Uncle Oswald
This chap has a point… it is high time we call an amnesty on some of the more ‘millennial’ monstrosities lucking in the back of the shoe closet. I love the description of the awful and ubiquitous “chicken korma brown loafer” and confess that while I don’t own a pair of loafers, I might be singled out for possessing a pair of zip up brown ankle boots.
This is a call to arms… and a clarion call from the nation’s feet.
Just as a little postscript to all this, I was genuinely saddened to learn today that Ducker & Sons of the Turl is closing down. Now in his 70’s the skilled and charming proprietor, Bob Avery, has decided to retire. The site has sold hand made and beautiful constructed shoes since 1898. Customers over the years have included such luminaries as Baron von Richthofen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, as well as more pedestrian pedestrians such as myself. See the difference:
The annual Judges’ Service takes place at Westminster Abbey to mark the start of the ‘Legal Year’ (think Michaelmas pre-term university bop, just without the plastic cups of vodka and vomit). It’s a wonderfully bonkers occasion when the legal bigwigs come out in force to ask for Divine guidance in their judgement.
This year’s service was on Monday, and in his Bidding, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said modestly that, “we acknowledge our high calling to reflect the justice and mercy of God.” The law lords then merrily went back to handing down ASBOs, pondering legal jurisdictions, and transporting orphans who steal the occasional loaf of bread. Or whatever it is they get up to day-to-day.
This best bit of the whole occasion is how underdressed the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, The Right Honourable Liz Truss MP, looks without a wig. Obviously, it’s all an arcane excuse to potter about in an enormous wig. Perhaps not the most sensible way to run a legal system if you ask me, but at least God is on board with it all.
I am not really one to blow my own trumpet, but it is sometimes helpful to let people know I play. (Note how there is no similar turn of phrase for the ukulele… more’s the pity).
Anyhow, this weekend I am speaking at a conference on “Sacred Spaces” in London; it follows on from my lecture at the British Museum a couple of months ago and will expand on some of the subjects I touched on there.
According to the blurb: This conference will bring together some of the foremost active researchers on Tibetan religion, geography, art and culture to discuss the notions of what makes places and objects sacred. Practical demonstrations of yogic exercises and meditational dance under the guidance of leading practitioners will take place on the second day.
The talks and ensuing discussions will focus on a variety of topics; how a place may be intrinsically sacred through its geomantic or geographical attributes and how sacredness may also be created or embraced by consecration and propitiatory rites. Sacred landscapes and mandala art will also be examined in depth.
I will again be looking at looting and at how the British officers and men of the 1904 Mission to Tibet were attempting to construct scared spaces back at home through their collections. I call these Imperial Archives or Temples of Empire, filled with classically Orientalist bits and bobs. In terms of this ‘Oriental Other,’ Edward Said has noted that, “from the end of the eighteenth century there emerged a complex Orient suitable for study for display in the museum, for reconstruction in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial, and historical theses about mankind and the universe.”
I think that by collecting objects from Tibet the Edwardian officers and men consciously and subconsciously sought to emphasize the differences between both their own, and the state they represented’s, ordered, civilized, rational self, and Tibet’s backward, religious, oppressed and flawed, ‘Other.’ This could be achieved best by collecting and presenting items to museums that stereotypically encompassed Tibet; items made from human bones, monastic paraphernalia, medieval military equipment, and ‘primitive’ possessions.
The British officers and collectors likewise assured their place in our common historical conscience; collections seek to anchor us in space and time. Crane explains, “being collected means being valued and remembered institutionally; being displayed means being incorporated into the extra-institutional memory of the museum visitors.”
Find more details of tickets and the whole programme at: