Friday, 31 January 2020

Time for a Break?

A question which can apply at many levels.

Today Britain takes a break from the European Union. I hope it won't be a long one.

But the break I propose to address this evening (when I wrote this), is whether it is time to take a break from "the News". I have been a compulsive news consumer for as long as I can remember. Whether it was newspapers; radio & TV news from the 1970s onwards - through to the era of rolling news, and the explosion of access to news (and some that don't deserve being called that) sites. As of the 1st January this year I had subscriptions to The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France), Washington Post (USA) and China Daily (China). I also took news via alerts on my iPhone & iPad from all of those and others - as well as being signed up for emails from Roll Call; The Hill; the House of Commons Library; and as a result of being the Labour Party Candidate for Buckingham during the recent General Election, I still receive all the news from the Labour Party Press Office including Overnight Media & Broadcast briefs on a daily basis. I have also been a frequent user of twitter.

Enough is surely enough?

I've been cutting down - I'm so disillusioned by the News and Current Affairs output of BBC TV & Radio, that I no longer listen. I'm running my subscriptions to newspapers down - and unsubscribing from alerts and emails - and rarely look at Twitter.

Is that going too far?

Whilst down in London recently (one of the British Museum visits) I popped into Foyles and purchased a book called "STOP READING THE NEWS" by Rolf Dobelli. It really is a good read - with some very sensible points. It is subtitled "A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life', I would thoroughly recommend it to you.

Its contents include
- How I gave up the News (did I mention it was a signed copy?)
- News is to the Mind What Sugar is to the Body
- Radical Abstinence
- The Thirty-Day Plan
- The Soft Option
- News is |rrelevant
- News gets Risk Assessment All Wrong
- News is a Waste of Time
- News Obscures the Big Picture
- News is Toxic to Your Body
- News Confirms Our Mistakes.....
- News Encourages Terrorism
- News Destroys Our Peace of Mind

Dobelli also deals with potential objections to his argument, including 'What About Democracy'

In my view he makes some very good points. Do read it yourself!

I've been reflecting on what he says, and how I feel about some of the news and certain news organisations (and last night went to see the excellent film, "Bombshell" (French Title - "Scandale") about Fox News - part of the truly awful Murdoch Empire) - and came to the following conclusions -

I will "stop reading the News" - that doesn't mean that I won't be keeping myself informed about what is going on in the world. But instead of "consuming news", I'll be harvesting information about issues that matter to me. (Spoiler alert - Education, The Environment, Transport, Health (particularly avoidable illnesses)

There are a number of sources - I will still use (for the time being) the Daily editions of Le Monde, China Daily & the Washington Post - but only look at the in-depth pieces about issues. I'll still dip into France 24, Euronews, CGTN & CNN for in depth stories - but will make more use of the House of Commons Library, and regularly visit the websites of the British Parliament, the French Parliament, US Congress, the National People's Congress of China - and the Executive websites for those countries.

I'll still be making notes on the issues - what they are, and how different countries or International bodies are seeking to tackle them.

I'd welcome any comments or suggestions - you can post them here - or send to MorganBuckinghamLabour@mail.com (I might as well recycle the email account I used during the election - but just for Washminster responses.


Thursday, 23 January 2020

Troy Revisted

One of the benefits of membership of the Friends of the British Museum is that you can visit the high profile exhibitions without paying - as often as you wish (Though may be worth getting in touch beforehand for days when high levels of visitors are expected). So last week I took the opportunity to revisit the Troy Exhibition. I've described the layout of the exhibition in my previous post. This time I concentrated on specific details - particularly the major stories about the conflict, the various deities and humans involved, and the archaeology of the period that the Trojan War may relate to (Troy VI - VII)

My favourite exhibit is the Sophilos Dinos - it's a wine mixing bowl which portrays the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Peleus was the son of Aeacus, the King of Aegina - a mortal who took part in the expedition of the Argonauts and various other adventures. His bride was the sea-goddess Thetis. Zeus was very interested in her, but he had heard from Prometheus that her son was to be greater than its father (a worry for a god who had toppled his own father (Cronos - who had himself overthrown his father, Ouranos))!  So Zeus sought to marry Thetis off to a mortal. The bowl shows in its top frames, the procession at the wedding led by Zeus and his (long suffering) wife, Hera. Many of the other gods are portrayed and identified on the bowl. This event was held on Mount Pelion.The wedding was disrupted by Eris, goddess of discord (see below) - who had not been invited. She threw into the celebrations a golden apple inscribed with the words, "for the fairest". The goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claimed it - which led to a dispute which Paris, the son of the King of Troy was called upon to resolve. Bribes were offered to him by each of the three contestants. Aphrodite "won" by promising Paris the most beautiful woman in the world - Helen. Unfortunately she was already the wife of the King of Sparta.. Paris took Helen (depending on the source, this was a story of two lovers running away together, or Paris' forcible abduction of the lady) back to Troy.

It was this which sparked the Trojan War! The "gods" were themselves divided. Poseidon; Hera, Hephaestus and Athena backed the Greeks - while Ares; Apollo; Aphrodite and Artemis aided the Trojans.

Thetis and Peleus had one son, Achilles - a major character in the Trojan War. His rage and brutality is depicted in many of the exhibits at the British Museum exhibition. Helen is also another major subject of the exhibition (and in a number of books on sale in the attached bookshop).

The variety and beauty of so many exhibits is breathtaking.

The only timeframe for the conflict is 1400 - 1200 BC - but Troy had a much longer history. It was first settled around 3000 BCE. The levels found at Hissarlik are

Level 1                 3000 - 2550 BCE          early Bronze Age (3000 - 2000 BCE)
Level II                 2550 - 2300 BCE
Level III                2300 - 2200 BCE
Level IV                2200 - 2000 BCE
Level V                 2000 - 1750 BCE        Middle Bronze Age (2000 - 1600 BCE)
Level VI               1750 - 1300 BCE         Middle/Late Bronze Age (1600 to 1180 BCE)
Level VIIa            1300 - 1180 BCE
Level VIIb            1180 - 900 BCE           Iron Age
Level VIII              900 - 85 BCE             Geometric, Archaic, Classical & Hellenistic
Level IX                  85 BCE - 600 CE      Roman

Schliemann identified "Priam's Treasure" - and there are many exhibits on show at this exhibition. Sadly, these date back to the early Bronze Age (2550 - 2300 BCE), more than a thousand years before the time that the Trojan War is associated with.

Personally, I'm more interested in the mythology and the archaeology, but there is an excellent section on how the stories of the conflict have inspired writers and artists in the centuries that followed. My favourite painting is Herbert Draper's "Ulysses and the Sirens". The agony of Ulysses - tied to the ship's mast to stop him succumbing to the sirens is so powerfully portrayed.

As I wrote in my earlier post - I intend to revisit the exhibition before it closes on March 8th - a few hours isn't enough.

Ahead of the Chinese New Year - this weekend - I made a visit to one of my favourite permanent galleries in the Museum. This covers  21,000 years of Chinese history - and what a history! - more on that soon...

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Through the Temple and Baths of Aquae Sulis

(Continued from Tuesday's post)

The route of the tour takes you below the passage known as "Abbey Churchyard" towards Stall Street. You walk at the original Roman level and can see the remains of the Temple Courtyard. The remains of a major altar (but probably not the only one in the courtyard), where animals were sacrificed. Near to it is the Haruspex Stone. This was given  by a Haruspex - a person responsible for removing the organs of the sacrificed animal for examination in order to predict the future. One of the treasures is the gilded bronze head of Minerva. It had been re-gilded many times - probably because of the effect of being close to a constantly burning flame within the temple. Ordinary people would never have seen this. The inside of the temple was exclusive haunt of the priests.

The next highlight is the sacred spring itself. You can watch (it is very relaxing) the bubbles as heated waters (42C) rise. Once this would have been a mystical place - as the spring in its natural state brought up bubbles and steam in a slight valley near the River Avon. There were other natural hot springs in the vicinity, but this was the biggest. It provided both the heat and the water for the Great Bath. You can see the roman plumbing as the water was taken through and around the building before being discharged towards the Avon. Numerous coins were thrown in and a chart shows the dates of these coins. The oldest comes from the period of the Roman Republic (dated to 133 - 31 BCE), whilst the greatest number date from the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE).

There were a number of springs in the area - and over time a walled town grew up. The map to the left shows the main roads serving the spa at Aquae Sulis.

While the Great Bath is the centrepiece of the complex, other baths and rooms were available. Many alterations were made over the Roman period. On our way to and from Bristol we used the Fosse Way which links Bath to Cirencester, Leicester and Lincoln. The M4/A419/A420/A34/A4421/A421 route between Bath and Milton Keynes is quicker - but I love the route following the Fosse Way as it goes through Cirencester, and close to the superb Roman Villa at Chedworth and close to the source of the River Thames.

The tour finishes with an opportunity to taste the hot spring water. Then you can visit the gift shop. (The shop is also accessible from Stall Street, but there is no direct access to the Baths.

If you are in the Bath area, it is well worth a visit. - and don't forget to take a look at Barry Cunliffe's excellent "Roman Bath Discovered"! The latest information about visiting the Roman Baths is here.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Roman Bath

Last weekend I was in the West Country. I had the opportunity to travel from Bristol to Bath, one of  my all-time favourite places. The day was spent in the Roman Baths - a place I have visited many times in my life, and there have been many great developments there over those years. The visit (which includes a handheld guide - with various options, and the ability to choose which places you listen to the relevant recording) was excellent. There are additional tours led by a guide at different times of the day.

At the end of my previous visit, I had invested in some excellent books. There is "The Essential Roman Baths" which is a well illustrated summary guide produced for visitors. Barry Cunliffe's excellent "Roman Bath Discovered" reports his own archaeological digs, and brings together the evidence gathered in earlier excavations. I found it indispensable, both before the visit, and during my walk around.

The statues of the Roman Emperors and governors were only made and erected less than 130 years ago, so were of limited interest. It was the height of the Bath building in later Roman times that staggered me - it was close to the height of the nearby Bath Abbey. It would have towered about the town of Aquae Sulis (Bath) Part of the vaulting for that ceiling was on display. It replaced an earlier lower wooden roof - which had rotted in a relatively short period.

I was particularly impressed at the so called "Gorgon's Head Pediment", found in 1790 - in pieces - now on display just off the Great Bath. I spent some time there listening to the commentary and reading Cunliffe. A light display allows you to see what it originally looked like - with "missing pieces", and of greatest help, in the original colours. A gorgon is a female creature - but this is definitely a man. His hair was red. It was carved by Gauls from Gaul - no wonder that it doesn't look like a Roman god, but a red-headed celt. It was probably their depiction of Neptune - who shared divine responsibility for waters with Minerva. The goddess inside the temple was Sulis Minerva - a Celtic goddess seen as the local version of Minerva. The Roman Baths website states that "Sulis is the Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters and Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom." Minerva was herself an Etruscan goddess adopted by the Romans who was very similar to Athena (both burst from the head of the Chief God who had devoured her mother - in order to prevent her birth). Minerva and Athena's symbol was the owl - who can be seen on the pediment.

I took loads of photographs, and only a selection are on this blog. Moving on, there was an excellent exhibition of finds - and their explanations. I was particularly interested in the story of Julius Vitalis - who probably came from what is today, Belgium, joined the Roman army at 20, was an armourer within the Twentieth Legion and died aged only 29. His memorial is now next to a display showing the work of an armourer.

Other exhibits include the coins found in the Beau Street Hoard (there is a publication available just about this produced by the British Museum) and curse tablets.

In tomorrow's post I will describe the latter part of the tour.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Citizenship - and the loss of Rights

Today many European Citizens - {that includes citizens of ALL current EU member states - including, for the next few days, citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland} will be sending a letter to key players within the institutions of the European Union. I am one of them - and the email I sent is reproduced below.


Dear EU colleagues and friends,

We write to you at our lowest point since the referendum of 2016. After over  three years of fighting to remain we unfortunately now know that we will be entering the transition period on 31st January 2020.
To be clear, this is not the will of the people. Indeed more votes were cast in favour of remain parties in the recent general election than were for the conservatives, especially so by our younger age groups of voters.
Only our voting system enabled a Johnson majority; this is something that we must work towards changing.
We do not want to leave the EU and we will continue to mount a sustained resistance to this for as long as it takes. Further, we will look to rejoin the EU at the earliest opportunity.
Having made those points, we write to you today to seek your patience, understanding and your guidance on the following points.
Please consider each in isolation, we are not asking for an either/or.
1) EU citizenship
Group members have asked if it would be possible to individually subscribe to an EU membership. Paying an annual fee much in the same way that the UK does now but with the individuals actually paying rather than the UK government paying. This subscription would be for ongoing freedom of movement and things like medical support etc.
We can see legally there may be some difficulties to overcome with this approach but we wanted to stimulate some thought and debate on this within the EU. Would the 27 be open to exploring this idea and possible scenarios with us?
2) EU Residency - does already exist but with time restrictions for the member country
We wanted to ask that for those UK nationals already working or living in the 27 countries that EU residency should be automatically applied to them in their country of residence on 1st February 2020. They are the people most immediately affected by the withdrawal and their loss would also impact negatively on many of the economies of our 27 EU friends were they to be forced to leave.
This second point does not unfortunately help those UK citizens in the UK that voted to remain but it will give certainty and relief to those genuinely at risk in the other 27 countries and remove the time restriction for applying for permanent residency for those already living in the 27 member states.
The application to UK nationals of the EU residency in such a dramatic and humanitarian way would also help apply pressure directly onto the Johnson government to reciprocate for EU citizens living in the UK.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill does NOT allow for this and the amendment that would have provided for it was defeated this very week in the House of Commons.
The Johnson government demonstrated their worst qualities during that vote and during the vote on unaccompanied child migrants.
We believe that the EU 27 granting a general residency as desribed would also very much help to refocus on the EU citizens residency topic within the UK itself.
Safeguarding the EU citizens’ rights in the UK is also of paramount importance to us, we are without doubt in this together and we will remain so.
We believe the UK government would find it difficult to ignore or argue against such a proposal if a unilateral gesture had been already made by the remaining 27.
Our groups would lobby strongly for this to be applied to EU citizens also.
This email comes from our fledgling BRB EU Group and from the 48% Group and others.
We ask that you read it, consider our requests in a positive way and provide us with constructive feedback on how to work with you to enable progress.
To enable a clear line of communication we respectfully request that when you reply to the please also copy to following group admin email address.
Kind regards and thanks


Similar letters are being sent to -

I would encourage you, if you feel the same way, to send a similar email. Normally individuals are only stripped of their citizenship for a serious crime. At the end of this month there will be an unprecedented "bonfire of rights" - it will take away citizenship of the EU from British citizens - and diminish the rights of those who have chosen to come to Britain and settle here. 

For more on the rights of European Citizenship see - Rights of EU Citizens