In the Service of the big wigs

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.

legal-wigs

truss

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Sacred Spaces: Imperial Archives & Temples of Empire

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:
http://bit.ly/2cpO6L5

 

conference

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Grandmaster Time

While the end product is not exactly my ‘cup of tea’, the design, process, and manufacture of this timepiece is a marvel to behold. My chum Cookie (yes, him with the motorbike and catholic skill set*) sent me this link knowing that I would appreciate the skill and elegance of this watch, and I, in turn, want to share it with you. The Grandmaster Chime was created for Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary in 2014, and combines a staggering 1366 different parts.

*By which I mean he can weld, paint, cook, draw, design, and mix a mean G&T, not that he is a dab hand with a thurible or zucchetto.

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Rugby Vs Football: Who earns what…

This sort of information makes me very grumpy. I can only imagine the comparison between our cricketers and football players, let alone other sports.

Rugby Football

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We all know what to do with a drunken sailor, but what to do with a drunken sailor turned BBC correspondent?

We all know what to do with a drunken sailor, but what to do with a drunken sailor turned BBC correspondent? If the example of a certain Thomas Woodrooffe is anything to go by; let them ramble across the airwaves for a while, then pull the plug!

I have just found a fabulous recording made on the night of Thursday May 20, 1937: the night of the Coronation Fleet Review of George VI. This Review was a vast gathering of 200 odd  examples of naval firepower, with not only the Royal Navy’s five new carriers present, but the USS New York from across the Atlantic, Germany’s new pocket battleship Graf Spee, and the heavy cruiser Ashigara from The Empire of Japan.

During his naval career Woodrooffe had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, but after his retirement he became a commentator for BBC Radio. He was one of the most recognisable voices of the 1930s, when, let’s be honest, everyone on the radio sounded more or less the same. He covered, amongst many other events, the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics, and Neville Chamberlain’s return from Munich in 1938.

On that misty May night Woodrooffe was to describe the Review from his old ship; the battleship HMS Nelson.

Once on board he ‘accidentally’ he met some of his former naval colleagues, and drank to the health of the newly crowned King. He might perhaps have ‘over refreshed’ himself prior to his broadcast to the extent that his broadcast, still known today by his repeated phrase “the fleet’s lit up”, was so incoherent he was taken off air after only a few minutes. When the lights all went out he famously described how the “The Fleet has gone! It’s disappeared!”

Woodrooffe was suspended for a week by the BBC’s Director-General John Reith, but was reinstated, and went on to commentate on many other famous events, including the 1938 FA Cup Final between Preston North End and Huddersfield Town, which was the first to be televised. I somehow suspect that Jeremy Clarkson might not be invited back to become a football commentator… but it could not prove any more disastrous than this gem from the archives…

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Poor Phone Reception?

Phone Reception

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June 10, 2016 · 10:16 am

Barmy for Bandstands

I know I am a bit geeky, but I love a good bandstand. Yep. Bandstands. (For once, not a typo!)

For me they epitomise those high minded Victorians who decided that it was in the public good to not only have an antidote to the dark satanic mills and grime of the suburban sprawl in the form of public parks and green spaces, but that they should obviously feature a heavily ornamented, cast iron focal point, under which the band should, quite literally, play on. Play on through the inevitable summer downpour, but also through the gradual decline of their own high mindedness and sense of place in the world. They are glorious features in and of themselves, but represent so much more. Tibetans had chortens; Victorians had bandstands.

The Birdcage, Brighton

The Birdcage, Brighton

The first bandstands were were built in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens 1861. Like most things Victorian and elegant they therefore took their rise in South Kensington before eventually congregating on the South Coast.   From their inception they quickly spread to almost every British town and city, and were popular places to meet and listen to music… a sort of semi official public performance space. The wars were not kind to them however, and while Britain listened to the wireless in the dugout rather than open spaces (for good reason), the iron railing and ornate castings were melted to make weapons and artillery.

Between 1979 and 2001, more than half of the 438 bandstands in historic parks across the country were demolished, vandalised, or in a chronic state of disuse. It is therefore not surprising that most people my age see them as faded, dated, folly. In the late 1990s the Heritage Lottery Fund invested a substantial sum in the restoration and rebuilding of bandstands across the country, and one such example graces the Brighton sea front (see above). Known as The Birdcage, I was lucky enough to poke about it last weekend, while my poor family looked on somewhat bemused.

The bandstand in Corporation Park, Blackburn.

The bandstand in Corporation Park, Blackburn. Note ubiquitous overcoats and hats!

Eastbourne also boasts (quietly) of another example, and they even use it for gigs and concerts!

Eastbourne

PS, and this one just in from my parents, in Hyde Park! (Feb 2017)

img_1023

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