The Sinking of the White Ship a 12th century disaster of Titanic proportions.

The sinking of the White Ship shaped not just a country but in some ways the world but due to its distant setting and the repercussions it caused, it’s largely unknown amongst the general public. Surprisingly though, we know quite a lot about what happened back on the 25th November 1120.

We know from contemporaneous accounts that the ship was white, or at least very light in colour. Perhaps she was lime-washed, rather than actually painted white. At that time, many boats were treated with dark pitch to make them watertight and so a lime-washed boat would have seemed especially bright. We also know that she was huge for the era. The Sutton Hoo ship which is the largest ancient longboat ever found in England only 26 oarsmen; the White Ship had 50… truly massive by comparison.

The White Ship was the fastest vessel of her day, captained by a man called FitzStephen. He had begged King Henry I to honour him with his presence on a trip across the Channel, from Barfleur in Normandy to Southampton. But the King made the fateful decision not to board, to the great frustration of Captain FitzStephen. Instead, Henry proposed that his son and his entourage might enjoy the journey in his place. It was a choice that would change the history of England for ever.

The young Prince William was still a teenager and surrounded by hangers got incredibly drunk. In fact, he was so drunk that he was persuaded that it would be a good idea to have the crew join him in their merriment. In fact they were so drunk that when some priests came to bless their voyage, they were jeered and chased off.

With her crew intoxicated, the White Ship was out of control from the moment she cast off from Barfleur. The oarsmen decided to go as fast as they could in an effort to overtake King Henry’s vessel, which had set off several hours earlier which would have been a crazy thought to anyone sober.

Both the Captain and helmsman both made major mistakes. The mainsail was dropped too soon, and the helmsman miscalculated the whereabouts of the hulking mass of the Quillebeuf Rock that lurked beneath the waves of Barfleur harbour. The White Ship struck the rock, and the Prince and all of his companions tumbled into the freezing water, ultimately dying of shock, hypothermia and drowning. The ghostly wail of the doomed passengers could be heard on the nearby French shore, where it was mistaken for the sound of rowdy revellers.

There is a bit of a twist in this typically medieval tragic-comedy with Prince William might actually having been able to survive. When the vessel first began to take on water, he was placed in a small boat rowed by his bodyguards. However, when he heard his half-sister Matilda, Countess of Perche, screaming for him to save her, William ordered the boat to turn around. This decision was as disastrous as it was compassionate: the boat was hauled beneath the waves by the weight of drowning courtiers attempting to clamber aboard.

The sole survivor of the disaster, clinging to wreckage, was a butcher from Rouen – a man called Berold and it is from him that we owe our detailed knowledge of the story. He had gone on board to collect money owed by passengers, avoided getting drunk, and so became the lone witness to one of the most momentous events of his age.

When Henry I was informed of the catastrophic loss of his children, and of many of greatest subjects, he collapsed, screaming. They say he never smiled again, during the remaining 15 years of his life. Whether or not he ever produced another smile, he certainly never produced another heir. The result of the shipwreck was civil war as a nephew of Henry I, Stephen of Blois excused himself from the ship shortly before it set sail, it is thought suffering from sickness and diarrhoea by having drunk far too much!

No one saw it at the time, but it was a seismic turning point, perhaps among the most decisive in English history. The young royal house of Normandy went into the waves along with William, and England set sail on a different course, soon descending into a civil war that ravaged the country for two decades as the weak and ineffective King Stephen manoeuvred himself onto the throne which the formidable Matilda battled for in long drawn out period known as the Anarchy. Things became so bleak that one monk lamented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that “Christ and his saints slept”.

Most obviously, if the White Ship had made it safely across the Channel, a lot of England’s history would never have happened or would at least have occurred differently. Thomas Becket would not have been martyred and become one of the most venerated saints in Christendom. There may have been no Magna Carta, as John would not have had all the lands in France to lose, and Richard III would not have murdered the uncrowned child king and his brother in the Tower. The obscure Henry Tudor would never have taken the crown at Bosworth. And no-one would have heard of the ruthless, scholarly Henry VIII or the chaos of his marriage bed. Indeed, there may have been no break from Rome. King James VI would never have ridden down from Scotland, and his son Charles I would not have been beheaded for England to briefly become a republic.

But the wreck also heralded a more profound change in England’s political culture. In the century before the catastrophe of the White Ship, the country had seen a carousel of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Norman rulers, with stability only emerging after 1066. Had the captain of the White Ship been less drunk, England’s history may have been that of a cross-Channel empire centred on Normandy.

Instead, the arrival of the Plantagenet chancers under Matilda’s son Henry II brought a grander vision, via their control of Anjou and Acquitaine, and they eventually saw themselves as rulers of England and France. Although England lost, the Hundred Years War was a crucible that defined the country as separate from France, with the old language of the Anglo-Saxons becoming its defining expression.

If the Ætheling had lived, the subtle progression of events that saw medieval Britain turn into Early Modern Britain would have been guided by very different hands. With no Tudors or Stuarts, perhaps even the settlements in the 13 colonies of what became the United States would not have happened as they did. The Anglosphere empire itself may never have emerged.

In the last year or two a series of expeditions has been run to track down the stricken White Ship. Almost within minutes, divers believed to have found the remains, helped largely by the fact that the rock it struck hasn’t really moved at all in the last 900 years! Further dives are planned to verify the discovery with the hopes that some objects will be retrieved for display.

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The Englishman who invented an American fast-food icon

Everyone loves a hotdog don’t they? I know I used to eat a lot of them though I’ve not had any for about 20 years, partly that’s because it is hard to get gluten free hotdog bread rolls and partly as I prefer actual sausages in bread rolls. Nevertheless, hotdogs can be a fast and tasty way to banish hunger pans

Hotdogs though are credited as being invented by Harry M. Stevens from London though spent much of his childhood in the city of Derby. In 1871, aged 14, he was working as a puddler, an arduous and often dangerous occupation converting molten pig iron into wrought iron. Five years later he married Mary Wragg and in 1881 the couple were living at 21, Russell Street and Harry had changed jobs and worked as a potato vendor.

Around 1882 the family emigrated to the USA, settling in Niles, Ohio where Harry found work as a smelter in a local steelworks. But when a strike closed the works, he was forced to find alternative employment. Among the many jobs he undertook took to make ends meet was the one that would take him all over the north-eastern United States and would eventually lead him to New York.

Harry M Stevens

He became a travelling bookseller. From the Complete Works of Shakespeare, through the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant to a biography of General Custer, Harry Stevens walked from door-to-door peddling the latest page-turners. But, as good a salesman as Harry was, this was never going to set him on the road to a fortune. It was while taking time out from a heavy day’s selling to watch some sport that Harry came upon an idea that would.

Much like myself, Harry was an Englishmen who had fallen in love with baseball but the complex scorecards sold to spectators frustrated him. He decided he could do better and created a simple-to-follow version that made it easy for spectators to identify each player. It proved so popular that it became the model for the scorecards that, to this day, are sold in ballparks right across the USA.

Harry began to sell his idea to more and more ballparks, eventually acquiring the rights for scorecard and refreshment concessions at several Major League ballparks, including the famous Polo Grounds, variously home to the New York Yankees, Mets, and the NFL’s Giants.

It was here that Harry happened upon his second great idea. He noticed that some fans would become frustrated as they missed important moments of action on the field when taking a drink from their bottle. His idea is another that we still use today selling his bottles of soft drinks with drinking straws!

All of this though was just small fry compared to his third invention which is what really cemented Harry’s name in baseball history. Although his usual fare of hard-boiled eggs and ice creams were popular during the warmer months, Harry realised that what was really needed on those colder days at the start and end of the season was a hot snack. So he sent out his vendors to purchase as many of the local “dachshund” sausages as they could find.

They were immediately popular: tasty, warming and convenient, thanks to Harry’s unique selling point – serving them wrapped up in small bread rolls. They were a rip-roaring success, so much so that before long Harry’s carts were set up on street corners across New York. Others sought to copy him and soon local versions of the snack where being sold right across the nation.

All manner of local names were given to them from “frankfurters” to “red hots”, “wieners” to “wurst”, but for the origin of the “hotdog” we have to go back to Harry Stevens and his “dachshunds”. Looking for something quirky to illustrate a day at the ballpark, Tad Dorgan, cartoonist for the New York Sun, was inspired to draw a cartoon of a dachshund dog smeared in mustard and wrapped in a bun. Whether he was simply unable to spell “dachshund” or judged it too long a word, Dorgan’s caption read simply: “Get your hot dogs here!” Thus an American icon was named.

Because he had a knack of recognising what each crowd wanted at which time of year, Stevens’ empire grew quickly. Harry told one reporter: “Baseball crowds are great consumers of hot dogs, peanuts and bottled drinks. Heavier food is popular at racetracks. Prizefight crowds go in for mineral waters, near-beer (low-alcohol beer) and hot dogs. A boxing crowd is also a great cigar-consuming crowd. Chocolate goes well in spring and fall, but the hot dog is the all-year-round best seller.”

His knack paid off. When he died in 1934, Harry Stevens was a millionaire and then some. His family business became an enormous catering empire and “Harry M. Stevens” was one of the most recognisable names at American sporting venues. He even featured on his own cigarette card. He had offices at three of New York’s biggest sporting venues, and a suite at the Waldorf Hotel. His life ended in an apartment at the Murray Hill Hotel. His funeral was a star-studded affair – it was reckoned that some 500 major sporting stars were in attendance.

Some years after his death an auction of his memorabilia were held. Among the items was a photograph of Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time. Written in the Babe’s own hand was a simple, heartfelt, message: “To my second dad, Harry M. Stevens. From Babe Ruth. December 25 1927.”

Harry M. Stevens as depicted on a cigarette card (remember those!!)

Harry Stevens may have rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, but he kept in contact with his old hometown and made several trips back to Derby, putting his newfound American wealth to good use. In May 1928, Thomas Coleman of Litchurch Wesleyan Chapel told revellers at the chapel’s Sunday School Anniversary: “Harry M. Stevens of New York still retains great interest in the work at Litchurch, and yearly sends a gift of £15 to help on the work in the Sunday School.”

Meanwhile, he made a sizable donation to help construct a new Wesleyan chapel on Davenport Road. During the Second World War, his surviving family made a donation to the British Red Cross to purchase an ambulance in Harry’s name.

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Following a fox around St Pauls Cathedral

I’ve written several times in recent years on the green nature of London and even how it is the worlds first National Park City. I have a best-selling book in the shape of Secret Gardens of the City of London as well as various tours on those same gardens, canals, rivers and woods.

Earlier this week there was a little surprise even for me. I was trying with no success to get into St Pauls Cathedral which was closed due to a total lack of visitors in London 😦 and at 11am, in broad daylight in August a fox appeared and it brazenly trotted across the front of St Pauls as if it owned the place which with no people around, it pretty much did.

It had something in its mouth, I stupidly thought for a moment it was some sort of ball or toy, forgetting the fox wasn’t a dog or any sort of pet but a wild animal. In fact it was carrying a chickens egg in its mouth so delicately it remained intact without cracking.

Foxes are of course supposed to be nocturnal animals and though they are now famous for living in the suburbs, we were miles from there. I decided to follow him to see what he was up to and 2 or 3 minutes away, he found a secluded spot and decided to eat his treasured egg.

I took a little video which you can see this unusual sight right in the very heart of the City of London.

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The Festival of Bells 2021

A few weekends ago, I was out early in London, practicing a walk along some of the ghostly lanes and secret passageways that make up the old Roman City and I didn’t know that my day would be hijacked but not this time by a ghost (for I have a photo of two I met last year) but almost the opposite of a ghost, the sound of Angels from across the City.

The day started at 9:20am with the ringing of Great Paul at St Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London. This is the largest swinging bell in the UK and has not been rung for over 10 years. Great Paul is the largest bell ever cast in the UK and the largest church bell in the British Isles. Its total weight is 16.7 tonnes.

You can see a video of the ringing here, this is actually not even St Pauls at its finest as later on in the day the great bell was supplemented by some of the other bells in the cathedral.

At 9:30am, the cries of Great Paul were answered by the ringing of the 12 Bow Bells at St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside and then one by one, other churches in the City.

Throughout the day 165 bells from the towers of 19 churches rang out. This included the Royal Jubilee Bells at St James Garlickhythe, the ancient 16th century bells at St Bartholomew the Great, and the Coronation Bells at St Olave, Hart Street. The day included full peals of over 5,000 changes lasting 3½ hours at St Magnus the Martyr and St Michael’s Cornhill, and 2 carillon recitals at All Hallows-by-the-Tower. Over 150 ringers came into London to take part in the day’s festival.

It’s not the first time that I have stumbled across the Festival of Bells without expecting it but this time was better as I wasn’t working and could stay and enjoy the bells and without cars or planes, in a similar way to how they must have sounded centuries ago.

Doing several unique tours in the City or Square Mile such as my Secret Gardens or Roman tours means I’ve become familiar with what all the church steeples look like from far off and even recognise the differing sounds of the peels of some of the church bells.

Of course Bow Bells are a little bit special as it is said that you can only be a true Cockney (Londoner) if you are born within earshot of the bells.

Anyway, I got well and truly diverted from my planned walk as I spent almost an hour, experience the full majesty of the most famous bells in the City of London. The funny thing is that when you listen to the bells in person for a extended period of time, they seem to take on a vocal like quality. I spoke to one or two others who agreed that it sounded like we were listening to Angels.

If you’d like a little look around this very old but virtually unvisited (by tourists at least) part of London, then click on my new free video below.

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My new video tour of London

Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.

This one is based on my original 3 hour walking tour and visits just about every famous sight in Westminster (London) though it turns out with no crowds or tourists, I do this tour in just under 2 hours on this video.

I filmed this tour back in November 2020 at the very height of lockdown and at a time when London usually looks quite beautiful, with the colourful autumnal leaves falling in the parks and the white stone buildings coming into their own as they do in the winter months.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

It’s all filmed on a 360 degree camera so you can scroll around in every direction as the tour proceeds, something that comes into its own on this tour when there is almost always multiple points of interest throughout the tour. Walking through the Royal Parks or Trafalgar Square with the fountains running on both sides of your is almost like being there.

On this tour we go from Westminster Bridge with its famous views over the River Thames to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square. Then to Whitehall home to The Cenotaph, Horseguards Parade and Downing Street amongst other things.

Maybe the best photo I’ve ever taken in Whitehall, London.

After that we leave the governmental part of Westminster and explore Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column, Admiralty Arch, the National Gallery and those famous fountains and lions before heading up to Covent Garden. Then onwards through Leicester Square, home of film premiers and through China Town to Picadilly Circus. 

We’ll travel up Regents Street and walk through one of the oldest and most stylish old shopping arcades in the world as we pass through Mayfair and then into St James and the Royal Parks.

Of course no visit to London is complete with seeing Buckingham Palace and we’ll visit there, St James Palace and see a few other Royal residences along the way before we make our way back to where we started under the shadow of Big Ben.

The tour lasts 1 hour 51 minutes and costs £16 to view from the comfort of your own home so you can see a little bit of London without getting on a plane and in the process, give me a little of income too 🙂

https://yeoldeenglandtours.co.uk/our-tours-2/virtual-video-tours-2/london-virtual-guided-tour-tourist-historic-sights/

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Exploring some of the cute and colourful mews off Brompton Road

A few days ago I found myself at the Victoria & Albert Museum and afterwards with a bit of time to spare and still entirely without any tourists, I decided to take a stroll to properly explore some of the lanes and mews that are just off the busy Brompton Road where Harrods is.

Whilst Harrods and much of that part of Knightsbridge is often extremely busy and perhaps a little distastefully ostentatious to locals, just a few minutes walk away takes you to a very different area. Classy, understated, traditional and exactly where I would live if I had to live there which is why the streets were home to all manner of British actors as well as the occasional shy and retiring Hollywood star with screen heroines such as Ava Gardner.

The heathland village of Brompton was first recorded in 1294 and its name derives from Old English words meaning ‘farmstead where broom grows’. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s coat of arms is topped with a sprig of broom representing Brompton.

The marshy ground was drained in the 16th century and converted to fruit gardens. The Brompton Park nursery was established here in 1681 and has given its name to the Brompton stock: a large, usually red, biennial variety of the species Matthiola incana.

From around 1800 the area between Hyde Park and Brompton Road began to be developed in a piecemeal series of small streets and squares. The squares were and still are populated by grand buildings but nearby were the stables and modest homes of the servants who worked for their betters and as with other parts of London, over a few centuries they have become some of the most desirable places to live.

A year ago I wrote on the The (Deserted) Mews of Mayfair and it seems many parts of London are as deserted as ever but one gets the feeling that these particular mews are always quiet which I think exactly why the people who live there, love them so much.

Picturesque Mews

The blue terrace house above has obviously myself with blue and white decor and olive trees out side the front door. I’d guess their house is worth 10 times mine though. The house in the distance on the left was one of the homes of actor Sir Alec Guinness who of course starred in dozens if not towards a hundred films.

Me being artsy.

Of course if I were truly artsy then I might cut out the traffic cone on the edge of the photo! This corner was famous across Britain in the 1980’s and early 90’s as the setting for an iconic VW Golf car advert. Personally I’d think a VW around here would be more for the cleaning staff rather than residents!

Beautiful Mews

The view of this mews could be said to be out of this world which would be apt in someways as famed actor Sir Terrence Stamp used to live on the left. Of course he has played many roles but I always think of him as General Zod from the Planet Krypton who came so close to beating Superman 40 odd years ago. For some reason I often prefer the baddies in films. Darth Vader and General Zod were much more my people than Luke Skywalker or Superman.

Incidentally Sir Michael Caine lived further down the street when his career was just starting off and the pink building on the right which is about as long as a train carriage and no deeper than 3 feet and in places much shallower, recently sold for almost £1million so it gives a clue as to what the proper houses are worth.

From Russia With Love

The street above is another lovely Mews and in the distance you can see the spire of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Going potty!

You’d never know you were in the heart of London would you?

Horrifyingly gorgeous!

This old mews has been on-screen a few times including one of my favourite 60’s shows, The Avengers, a crime-fighting show with often sophisticated villains and the even classier Emma Peel played by Dame Diana Rigg and John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee.

Whilst just on the right was a location in the last great Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy!

Brompton Oratory

And then as I was just about finished, I caught a lovely glimpse of Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic Church. The photo also gives a glimpse or what many of the streets in this area are like. The house on the right was home to actor Jack Hawkins who appeared in countless films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, The Cruel Sea and The Bridge Over The River Kwai whilst one or two doors down was the home of Charles Gray who famously played Blofeld in James Bond.

Given the distinctive nature of the streets and my knowing all these house locations just from memory, it makes me wonder whether I have a new walking tour. There is so much more to London than the famous sights!

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I’ve created a monster!

You might remember well over a year ago I got a very tiny Spider Plant Coronavirus Diary 55 – great oaks from little acorns grow. By September last year, it had been repotted and grown somewhat Coronavirus Diary 70 – The front cottage garden in Autumn.

Almost another year down and whilst nothing has changed for me in being totally Excluded from government support whilst being barred from working in my profession, the little Spider Plant is not so little. In fact it’s turned into a monster with numerous shoots having sprouted out from the main plant to produce baby plants which in turn are now much larger than the original plant was when I got it and they too have produced children.

It’s all getting a bit out of control and I could tell the plant needed a bigger pot though I hadn’t quite expected its roots to be so potbound. Obviously it loves the location it has been growing in for over a year.

So I found the largest ceramic pot that I have which will give it room for another year. I’m not sure how much bigger a put I can find for it, especially suspending it from the roof of my somewhat condemned front porch, before it all falls down.

Getting it bang into its hanger was a bit of a nightmare too with all the leaves and runners everywhere but now its up, it does a good job of making the house seems bit more cottagey and stopping people looking to so easily too.

I’ve created a monster!
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I’ve joined the Clone Club – Orphan Black

It’s hard to have not noticed that the Olympics have been on for 2-3 weeks recently but I’ve not watched a second of it as I can’t bring myself to support anything to do with TeamGB on the account of being ExcludedUK though I have watched athletes from the Refugees team on Twitter as I feel an affinity to them.

Anyway just by chance I stumbled across a relatively recent television show that aired for 5 years called Orphan Black and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. It is about a lady who witnesses someone who looks just like her, commit suicide by jumping under a train… something I often think of doing myself and indeed just 4 days ago helped a lady on the tube who was feeling similarly.

In Orphan Black this lady, Sarah, assumes the identity of the dead woman only to find she is a police detective and in fact the reason they look alike is that they are clones. Not just two clones but several of them, potentially dozens, maybe hundreds.

The clones are all unaware of their situation and are the property of a hi-tech organisation who are manipulating their lives and in some cases outright experimenting and killing them under the auspices of helping the wider human race whilst also running a programme of life-extending treatments under the control of a mysterious Victorian man.

Things quickly get out of hand for Sarah and it seems the organisation has a special thing for her as she is the only clone who has had a baby though her life and health are such that she’s long been unable to care for it.

It turns out every clone has a Monitor in their life to keep tabs on them. Maybe their spouse, maybe their boss, neighbour or best friend. Some of the clones are being murdered and others are suffering from a genetic fault which will lead to their deaths unless it can be genetically engineered out.

There are many reasons to watch Orphan Black but the main one is actress Tatiana Maslany who plays over a dozen characters or clones. They all have very distinct personalities and and life-styles and there is no-way in the world one could ever mix them up. In fact for one I had to check it was the same actress playing a certain part!

It’s a really clever and gripping well told story and as well as all the drama and intrigue it has incredible funny moments and sense of family. None more so when either 2 or more clones are on-screen at once or when due to various plots one clone has to stand in for another and it totally comes over as one character pretending to be another character, not the actress just playing a different side to the character.

One of the characters who isn’t a clone is Sarah’s brother, Felix. He is one of the most fun characters I can remember seeing, a very life-loving, vice loving gay artist who lives in the loft of a warehouse. Both Felix and Sarah were adopted from London and have the best London accents even though the actors are Canadian. The situations he finds himself in on behalf of his clone sisters are way beyond any brother should have to face but he nearly always does with some grace albeit with some profanities and the occasional naked behind.

The story follows Sarah as she meets other clones as they attempt to resolve the situation they are in, often using force whilst at the same time living their lives whilst at risk of abduction and murder.

One of the clones is Alison who is top right of the photo montage above, who is a regular American house-wife who is a world away from some of the other characters in a hilarious suburban existence with her husband Donnie whilst dealing with drug dealers and ex-boyfriends or her clone Sarah who doesn’t realise he is chasing the wrong woman.

One of the characters I really like is Cosima, I think it were real life, she’d be the one I’d be friends with. A brainy scientist who is racing against the clock to save her own life and the lives of others whilst treading a very fine line with the cloning organisation who very much have their own hidden agenda.

My absolute favourite character though is Helena, a young lady born as the twin sister to Sarah in London but then with the forces of evil approaching, was sent away and abandoned, suffering a terrible cruel life at a Ukranian nunnery before coming to Canada. Helena makes her initial entrance for just a few seconds when she tries to assassinate Sarah but then disappears for a while before making this shocking debut below.

I really like the journey Helena goes on. At first she is terrifying and is always a legitimate psycho killer, lacking all social graces and liable to kill any one who wrongs or who she doesn’t trust, including some of our heroes. But over the course of 5 years she slowly becomes one of the family and rather than be terrified when her distinctive music comes onscreen, we are relieved because we know she is going to sort out whatever baddies are currently threatening or actually injuring and killing our beloved clone friends.

Despite her nature, I think Helena is the most honestly open and loving clone and in some ways the most vulnerable. She is also funny even if not always intentional, calling Donnie “strong like a baby Ox” and labelling Felix, “Sestra-brother”. Whether she is hallucinating talking to a scorpion about mango’s or in the midst of dishing out unspeakable but deserved violence, she is always entertaining. And she never loses her edge, minutes after a failed suicide attempt that left her near death in an attempt to stop her unborn babies being experimented on, she kills the midwife in the penultimate episode. Helena will always be my Candy Girl! Sarah too goes on an incredible journey and shows such guts to see things through despite all the suffering she and her daughter go through.

And if that isn’t enough Tatiana also plays Rachel, one of the least likeable characters on the show who is a senior figure in the cloning organisation, Neolution.

Especially in the times we live with talks of conspiracies, vaccines, hoaxes, suspicious organisations and even worse governments, the show is even more contemporary with ever as it muses through what rights people have over their own bodies. For myself it very much feels like what it is to be Excluded too and I have spoken to some others and they feel very much the same.

My Sestra’s!

Various people get killed, some good people turn out to be bad and some bad people turn out to be good and I was so happy how it ended with the story completely wrapped up and everyone who made it free to live out their lives.

I watched all 50 episodes of Orphan Black in about 3 weeks and only finished last weekend. It was never a hit show with only a few hundred thousand people watching it each week when it came out but almost everyone who has seen it, totally loves it. It’s only been 4 or 5 days and I miss Orphan Black so much. The camaraderie and family feeling and the action, the laughs, the suspense and the horror and wondering what on Earth will happen next.

I really recommend Orphan Black, I’ve never been into a television programme or indeed missed it so much when it is over. The pain is real!

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Jewels of Persia at the Epic Iran – 5,000 years of Culture exhibition at the V&A

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts, and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and in addition to its regular objects, often plays hosts to astounding collections from around the world.

Iran has long been the country I most want to visit but many people today know nothing of the country beyond its present day government and yet Iran or Persia as many used to know of it has one of the greatest histories and richest cultures on the planet; I’d actually say the number one but that’s just me.

Two or three years ago I visited the special exhibition at the British Library on the mostly forgotten but again my favourite period of British history at The Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library so I was thrilled when I managed to wangle a ticket to Epic Iran which has already been open for months and continues to September.

I asked at the front desk where the exhibition was situated in this gargantuan museum and was told to turn left at Buddhism and I immediately felt at home, like when I studied Africian and Asian history and politics at SOAS. Where else can you get directions that say to turn left at Buddhism?

I’ve written a few posts about Iran such as last years The Fire Temple of Chak Chak that weeps for its princess and There’s something about Persian door-knockers! and it was so nice to see objects I largely knew all about in real life as everyone else spent more time reading the wonderful informative texts and piecing things together, for me I just knew what they were and their significance and so spent 2 hours or more just marvelling at monuments and works of art and having done so it in no-way made me change my mind of where I most want to visit!

I took photos of nearly everything but here are just a few things that made my day.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder is something I’d seen before at the British Museum and is a Babylonian account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC, of his restoration to various temples of statues removed by Nabonidus, the previous king of Babylon, and of his own work at Babylon. The cylindrical form is typical of royal inscriptions of the Late Babylonian period, and the text shows that the cylinder was written to be buried in the foundations of the city wall of Babylon. It was deposited there after the capture of the city by Cyrus in 539 BC, and presumably written on his orders and then discovered in 1879 AD. Far from the oldest object but one I always enjoy studying.

The Immortals

The Immortals also known as the Persian Immortals was the name given by Herodotus to an elite heavily-armed infantry unit of 10,000 soldiers in the army of the Achaemenid Empire. This force performed the dual roles of both Imperial Guard and standing army and was founded by the legendary Cyrus The Great.

Persian weaponry

If I remember the photo above shows equipment from the Sassanian Empire making them almost 2,000 years old.

Persian Armour

This armour is of a much later period and is likely ceremonial from the 18th or 19th century but harkens back to equipment of just a few centuries earlier.

Book of stars

As with many other fields of science, various dynasties in Iran both safeguarded existing knowledge and pushed forwards the realm of science, maths and medicine. Here is an ancient book of stars showing contemporary constellations.

Shahnameh: The Epic of Kings

Whilst many know of Persian carpets, less known in the western world is the fantastic wealth of poetry and literature in Iranian culture. None more so than the legendary classic by Ferdowsi the Shahnameh or The Epic of Kings which both draws on ancient myths and legends before becoming a legitimate source of history and daring-do’s. Originally published in 1010AD it played a vitally important part in safeguarding Iranian culture at a time that the country had been under effectively foreign Arab rule and becoming increasingly Islamic as traditional faiths were becoming marginalised. Nevertheless it gave the springboard for later dynasties to again make Iran a great power with its own distinct civilisation though still very Islamic in nature.

Youthful rebellion

I’m not really into modern art, well not at all to be honest so anything 20th century and beyond isn’t really my thing but this piece from 2008 caught my eye, illustrating the huge numbers of young Iranians who are pushing the rules to the limits as they want to enjoy the freedoms that so many of the rest of us enjoy.

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Up close and personal with the wedding dress of Diana, Princess of Wales

One of my childhood memories is of the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. It was in the school summer holidays and even at the age of 7 and living nowhere near London, it was impossible to escape. The day before we had a new front door installed to our house then I was allowed to stay up late to watch the night for Royal Fireworks as a historic network of beacons spread across the kingdom.

One of the unforgettable elements of the wedding was of course the wedding dress that Lady Diana wore that day on Wednesday 29th July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral and for a few months you can see it in real life, as it’s part of a new exhibition called ‘Royal Style In The Making’ at London’s Kensington Palace, which launched on 3rd June and runs until 2nd January 2022. The exhibition explores the partnership between fashion designers and the Royal Family and explores how some of the greatest gowns in history came to be.

Of course the star attraction is the wonderful wedding dress of Princess Diana which anyone who saw it back then can never forget.

The iconic ivory gown was embroidered with sequins, lace and a humungous 10,000 mother of pearl sequins and pearls. The dress was designed by husband-and-wife team David and Elizabeth Emanuel and included a piece of Carrickmacross lace was attached to the dress that once belonged to Queen Mary.

Everyone is used to seeing weddings where brides have to take care fitting their dress into their car and carefully closing the door but Lady Diana actually struggled to fit into the carriage on the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral thanks to the vast amounts of fabric on her dress. The designers had to fold the fabric over the princess which caused wrinkles when she disembarked the carriage. This had been planned for however and upon her emergence outside St Pauls, the dress could be unfolded leaving not a trace of a crease or crinkle.

Great lengths were taken to ensure that Diana’s dress was kept a secret until it was unveiled to the world only on the big day. They even installed a safe to keep designs and fabric swatches, which was guarded 24/7 by security guards

The designers even created an alternate dress with a much more pronounced V-neckline and no lace which was kept on hand in case details of the original dress were leaked. They had other spare elements too and second guessed every conceivable problem right down to someone spilling a cup of a tea.

The dress’s 25-foot train was the longest in the history of royal wedding dresses, attached via a carefully crafted mechanism inside Diana’s sweeping skirts. But the tulle veil attached to her tiara was actually longer than the train, at a super impressive 153 yards.

Whilst all this was hard to miss, one of the things kept hidden from view was an 18-carat gold horseshoe, covered with diamonds that was stitched into the dress as a good luck charm.

And here it is!

Wedding dress of Princess Diana

Out of all the things in life, dresses aren’t generally something I’m at all interested in but it certainly is beautiful and just as I remember it. In 1981, I certainly didn’t envision that 40 years later I’d be looking at it again. Can you think of a 20th Century dress that made anything like as big an impact? Perhaps Marlyn Monroe and that dress!

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