Shhh . . . in the Library
The British Library of Euston Road, London is next to King’s Cross and St Pancras International rail stations. It received the highest listed building status, and joins the top 2.5% of listed buildings in England.
Libraries were in existence long before Britain was even called Britain. Over millennia they have embodied intellectual high point of a civilisation promoting the values, traditions and history that bind a people together. This fact is also well understood by conquerors who will typically attempt to destroy all forms of social cohesion that might spur resistance. Libraries and museums are prime targets for destruction for more than financial reasons.
The destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria is also one of the greatest cultural losses in history (one of many). This institution was at its height from the 3rd century BCE and was the focus of academic studies of all kinds in the ancient world. Destruction took place in waves beginning with the Romans under Julius Caesar and reaching a conclusion sometime after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.
There are many other lamentable examples, the Imperial library of Constantinople was destroyed by Christian crusaders, the House of Wisdom in Bagdad was destroyed by Mongol invaders and the Madrassah library in Cordoba . . .
Pedal Power to the rescue ?
In the UK, ‘Road Rage’ these days is a frequent topic in the newspapers. Driving here is stressful and involves very high level of concentration because of the state of the roads and the volume of traffic. You combine that with the fast-paced time orientated working life of most people and you have a toxic, boiling mix of anxiety and frustrating that spills over in the uncontrolled environment on the roads. There is one particular flashpoint of anger and that involves other road users such as motorcycles and bikes. There have the ability to weave (dangerously) in and out of traffic to avoid queues. In addition, cyclists have their own lanes in some places and this is a cause of some resentment because those lanes normally amount to white lines drawn on the road that effectually narrow a road that once was wide and easy to negotiate by car. Cyclists in turn are frustrated that cars often park in these lanes, wide lorries use them and they disappear when the road narrows because the road is too narrow to sustain a cycle path and another road!
Our mortality rate for cycling is similar to Sweden’s which appears on the face of it to make the UK safer that even the Netherlands which prosecutes drivers for any fatality involving a cyclist regardless of fault. The truth, however, is that although the death rate per car is low, it does not represent the number of journeys by bicycle that are actually taken or the location of them. Many towns like my own are . . .
Healthy Britain . . .
For all the lovely things in Britain, for me and most others the best thing about Britain is our National Health Service. You don’t pay to see a doctor or use a hospital for things you need. It has often been called the Envy of the World and rightly so. It might be one of the greatest advances in social justice ever seen and has remained unmatched since its inception in 1948.
The health of the general population has been crucial to those in power at many key points in British history. No-one, of course, escaped the effects of the Black Death which killed up to a third of our population. Many whole communities were destroyed. But the whole ancient feudal system entered a terminal decline that allowed people to become untethered to their overlords, free to sell their labour to the highest bidder.
For most of our history, treatment, such as it was, was administered (freely) by religious communities and these provide the roots of many of our oldest established hospitals.
Worse things happening at sea . . .
Britain has long been known as a sea-going nation and it was dominance at sea that opened up a vast empire to our tiny island from the eighteenth century onward. The sea, however, was no smooth road. The longer voyages for exotic goods or worldwide discovery amplified all the natural hazards and people now determinedly took on the ancient scourges of the oceans.
In the eighteenth century, extraordinary navigator Captain Cook commanded a circumnavigation without loss of a single man to scurvy, an achievement rare in much shorter voyages. This was thanks to the radical idea of adding fresh food to the sailors’ diet giving them vital vitamin C.
Some foes, however, could not be defeated. The weather, for example, could, at best, be evaded. Prediction has, of course, improved to the point where we can have some trust in forecasts. The first step was quantifying the weather. Sailors always had, had their own specific expressions . . .
Glamour in the kitchen . . .
I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the chat show, The Great British Bake Off: an Extra Slice. It was actually a, humorous look at the famous cookery show but there was no mistaking the deadly serious devotion of fans and the production team making the show. We were privileged to watch the show three days before it was shown on TV and signed a document committing us to keeping its secrets until then. We are reminded of our oath several times by the staff. I once signed the British Government’s Official Secrets Act but it did not seem half as solemn an undertaking.
`The Great British Bake Off’ is one of the most popular programmes on TV and has made huge stars of its judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.
Celebrity chiefs these days are an industry unto themselves, not only producing recipe books but all sorts of products bearing their names. An obscure ingredient that might appear on a cookery show will be emptied off of the supermarket shelves in no time at all.
The earliest known recipe book was written by a chief called Mithaecus in Sicily of the 3rd Century BC. The Roman Chef Apicius’ recipes used exotic meats like ostrich as well as spices and honey. The British Isles seemed to remain silent for a long time.