Tag Archives: oxford

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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The Fair Queen and St Giles

Oxford has this week been turned over to the annual St Giles’ Fair. It has been the traditional riot of lights, colour, and smells (some good, some less so)… I always feel that it is such a shame that the fair is not held when the students are in term and can also enjoy it; however given that its history goes back to pre 1200, I guess the fair has precedence over the undergrads!

A couple of interesting snippets about the bonanza of bright lights and booze: I has enjoyed Royal patrons in the past, indeed, when Elisabeth I stayed in Oxford between 3–10 September 1567 she watched the fair from the windows of St John’s College on the east side of St Giles’. I bet she did not go on the dodge’ms though…

Traditionally, anyone with a beershop was allowed to bring barrels of beer to St Giles’ Fair for sale. The great Wikipedia also tells me that another custom was that any householder in St Giles itself could sell beer and spirits during the fair by hanging the bough of a tree over their front door. Next year I am going to make a fortune flogging gin and beer with only the help of a hanging bough!

St Giles' Fair

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Another evening of hard labour draws to a close…

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Grandma hid drugs between her legs

Some things you just can’t make up… Oh Oxford, I love you sometimes… and how on earth the Editor managed to steer his team from the inevitable headline gag I dont know.

This from today’s Oxford Mail.

A GRANDMOTHER was caught with her trousers down trying to conceal drugs between her legs.

Police raided Janice East’s house and found the 54-year-old in her bedroom trying to get rid of the evidence.

The grandmother-of-two, from Rose Hill had six wraps of heroin and five wraps of crack cocaine when officers swooped on October 5.

East was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on Monday having earlier admitted two counts of possessing a Class A drug and breaching a suspended sentence.

Prosecutor Nikki Duncan said: “Police executed a warrant at her home address. They forced the door and went upstairs where they found her with her trousers pulled down. She was trying to conceal the drugs between her legs.”

The offence put East in breach of a four-month prison term, suspended for a year, which had been dished out by magistrates after almost identical drugs offences in May.

She has 31 previous convictions dating back to 1974.

Lucy Ffrench, defending, said East has been drug-free since November.

Judge Patrick Eccles jailed her for a total of 18 weeks.

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Calling Time on the Periodic Table

I just wanted to share this really excellent interview and article on my undergraduate tutor, Philip Stewart.

Philip, I am sure he will not mind me saying (not that I think he reads this blog) has been almost a grandfather figure to me (and no doubt countless others, including his own!) Time in his company is always uplifting, and his agile, interested and interesting mind is as open as it is resourceful. Anyhow, if you know Philip, I am sure you too will appreciate how highly I respect him.

Philip is a something of a polymath… an academic of the old school, he studied Arabic at Oxford, before taking a second degree in forestry. He then worked as a research officer and lecturer in Algeria, but taught Human Sciences and  Ecology back here till he notionally took retirement in 2006. Since ‘retirement’ he seems to have ever increasing numbers of books and grandchildren, and has recently become something of an authority on the poets of Boars Hill.

One of his most interesting projects has been to re-draw the Periodic Table. Rather than the staid and formal ubiquitous depiction that graces the walls of chemistry labs up and down the country, Philip’s is a spiral that swirls outwards as the number of neutrons increases. As Philip explains, “I conceived a passionate interest in the periodic table when I saw it represented as a huge, colorful spiral in the Science Exhibition of the Festival of Britain in 1951.” The result is not only innovative and accurate, but actually quite beautiful at the same time. You can order a copy for your wall here, or there is a free wallpaper download here.

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