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It’s official.  There are more geniuses in Britain than in any other country.  According to the delightful Daily Telegraph on Monday, British brains dominate a list of the top one hundred geniuses:

“Britain has more living geniuses per head of population than anywhere else in the world, according to a new survey which reveals the country’s influence on science, technology, business and the arts.”

Just what I needed on a Monday morning – confirmation of my Anglo-Saxon superiority.  Read the rest of the article here.

It’s a load of codswallop, of course.  4,ooo “known” Britons were emailed, of whom 600 replied with 1,100 suggestions of living geniuses.  Of these living geniuses, 40% were found to be already dead …  And another 120 were self-nominations but were at least alive …

If you ask only Britons to name their geniuses, it is hardly surprising that they name more Britons than other nationalities.  Nor do we know how “genius” was defined, except that it was broad enough to include Osama Bin Laden (No 43), George Soros (3), and Brian Eno (15).  Brian Eno’s mother was a dinner lady at my primary school, so I must be a genius too.

There’s an amusing report accompanying the list created by Synectics, a global consultancy firm, with a neat biography of every genius listed.  This is an example of the profound ability of Synectics to define their terms, and the excellent English they write:

“What is genius?  Genius is very difficult to define …. Many people argue that a genius can be defined by their contribution, where it turns conventional thinking on its head.”

Thank goodness for the Guardian. Unlike the Telegraph journalist, Marcel Berlins in the Guardian is capable of some critical thinking.  He lets fly at shoddy journalism and, oh, how I wished his pen were mine:

“You’ll have gathered by now that the list is barking mad. So how was it drawn up, and by whom?

The culprit, whose name I will not reveal because it would give the company responsible even more publicity, is described as a “global consultants firm”. A panel of six alleged “experts in creativity and innovation” emailed 4,000 people, all of them Britons, asking for nominations. Some 1,100 replied, many of them obviously deranged. I’m sure, of course, that the nationality of the consultees had nothing to do with the preponderance of British and other English-speaking geniuses in the list.

I do not accept that an exercise so crass in its conception and execution, so bereft of acceptable methodology, so biased towards reaching nonsensical conclusions, can be said to be “just a bit of fun”. I’m dismayed that many newspapers reported the findings as if they came from a respectable source. I am cross that the company that concocted this rubbish has probably gained a lot of publicity. There is a more serious point. The danger is that these insane findings will soon turn into facts, cited in Wikipedia and such-like. Future generations who don’t know any better – and indeed current readers – will genuinely believe that Brian Eno was a musical genius.”

And that, therefore, I am too.

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Elder daughter and I slipped away from the family gathering to go shopping in Windsor.  Elder Daughter maintained it was a while since she had been shopping alone with me.  But Elder Daughter knows she is on to a good thing since my pockets are deeper than hers.  An hour later, duly satisfied, she skipped along like a toddler.  We came across people lining the streets, quiet with anticipation. 

“They’re changing the guard,” a woman told us, “and it’s worth waiting.”  So we waited, and it was.

Elder Daughter knew all about the changing of the guard from Christopher Robin.  Countless times, until she knew the words off by heart, she had been read the story of Christopher Robin being taken by his nanny to see the guard changing.  Now Elder Daughter is as tall as me and still enjoys watching the pageant.

The Blues and Royals Band of the Household Cavalry accompanies the new bear-skinned guards to Windsor Castle, leaving the barracks and marching through Windsor High Street at about 10.50am.  The guards change over inside the castle at 11 o’clock, and the retiring guards – accompanied by the Band – march back to barracks through the High Street at about 11.15am.  It is a far more intimate experience than watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, with far fewer spectators and a far more magnificent backdrop.  The palace website says that the guards change only on alternate days except in April, May, June and July.  I am not sure what happens on the other days, but we were there on a Monday, and there is no changing of the guard on Sundays.

Windsor is only a short train ride from London’s Waterloo or Paddington Stations, and there is much to see and do, unbothered by crowds.  Beside the Castle itself, there are the 2,000 acres of Windsor Great Park and the Savill Garden to wander in, and Queen Mary’s Dolls House to marvel at.  Windsor Great Park has some of the oldest trees in Britain, and the Savill Garden is reknowned for its autumn colour.  The walk down past the castle, over the river, and along Eton High Street to Eton College, is very pleasant.  Imagine how lovely it must have been for the Queen to look out of her window to Prince William and Prince Harry’s school below her.  I wonder if either the Queen or either Prince was allowed to take the direct route from the school to the palace to visit each other.

A tour round Eton College is guaranteed to bust all preconceptions and inspire awe if not envy.  I doubt anybody has ever turned down an invitation to visit the school.  The enviable facilities from a museum of Egyptian artefacts to a conveniently Olympic-size rowing lake are enhanced by inspiring visits from almost any speaker and world leader you can imagine, and an army of dedicated teachers. 

A year’s fees cost more than £25,000 net of tax, but there are scholarships and bursaries available. The school urges: “No parents with a talented boy should feel that Eton is necessarily beyond their means”. 

The school was originally founded in 1440 by King Henry VI for 70 scholars, and there are still 70 King’s Scholars at any one time.  There are additional Music scholarships, Junior Scholarships, Junior Music Scholarships, Sixth Form Scholarships, and American Scholarships, all of which may be supplemented by bursaries if appropriate.

A. A. Milne 1882-1956

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terribly hard,”
Says Alice.
They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
“One of the sergeants looks after their socks,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King but he never came.
“Well, God take care of him, all the same,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They’ve great big parties inside the grounds.
“I wouldn’t be King for a hundred pounds,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn’t the King’s.
“He’s much too busy a-signing things,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
“Do you think the King knows all about me?”
“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea,”
Says Alice

The Long Walk, Windsor Great Park

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Psalm 119, v105

The Amsterdam Bible Museum organises an Art Prize each year, and exhibits a shortlist of entries for the prize.  This year artists were asked to submit New Media entries inspired by the theme of Psalm 119, and particularly the line “I am a stranger on earth”.

Only one entry could win, but this year another entry was given an “honourable mention” by the panel of judges. 

“Lonely funerals” are those funerals where there are no mourners at all.  Only the four pall bearers, the undertaker, and a civil servant representative from the Dutch social services attend the service.

Since 2002 a varying group of poets have organised themselves through a foundation called Stichting De Eenzame Uitvaart (The Lonely Funeral Foundation) to ensure that a poet attends every lonely funeral in the Amsterdam and Hague area, and reads out a poem which has been composed specially for the occasion.  The project is co-ordinated by the poet, F. Starik, who has attended 72 such funerals and whose entry received the honourable mention.

F. Starik’s installation at the Bible Museum is a silent white room where the walls and the furniture are shrouded in white sheets.  Even a video of one funeral is seen only through the white sheets.  On the wall, in Dutch and English, is Starik’s poem ‘Songloed’ or ‘Sunglow’ which begins:

“Noem ons deelgenoot.  In feite delen we niets/Call us companions, when in fact we share nothing.”

The film running behind the sheet carries the poem set to threadbare, hauntingly simple music and is a montage of documentary pictures of one funeral recorded, against Starik’s wishes, by Dutch film makers.  Starik describes the lonely funerals project as “a slow work of art, whereby each deceased person writes a new chapter in the great book of oblivion”.  The poet has perhaps four or five days notice of the funeral, and only a skeleton of details of the deceased’s life.  The poet reads out the poem between the first and second piece of music, but “there is no audience to hear him.  He speaks into emptiness.  The lonely funeral is not theatre.”

Nor can the poet replace friendship.  The poet’s role is to salute someone he has never known and will never get to know.  The text accompanying the exhibit concludes with the words of the neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks from his book The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat:

“From a biological and physiological point of view we do not differ all that much from one another, but from an historical point of view, as a story, each of us in unique”.

The dignity afforded the lonely funeral by the addition of a carefully created poem  – which had the lonely deceased as its inspiration – touched me deeply.  I enjoyed sitting there silently, enjoying the rare experience of being a solitary stranger.

The woman walked in through the door and saw the man.  He was intent on his work, bending over the workbench.  She was carrying two bottles of water and placed them on the bench next to him.  Without looking up he reached for one of the bottles, twisted off the plastic top and drank deeply.  He did the same with the other bottle, and drank until it was almost empty.

“The water’s warm,” he said.  “You should have kept it out of the sun.”

She watched him working.  She wished he would look up and acknowledge her.  She, too, was thirsty.  The two bottles was her only water and she had given them to him.  She was sweating from her work in the fields and was tired.  She thought that he – like her – must have some water as she knew that everyone was given the same ration, but she never saw his supplies.

She wished he would offer her some water without her asking.  Being offered water only when you asked took away most of the joy of drinking. 

She wiped the sweat from her forehead and sat down opposite the bench. 

“It was hot outside today, and everyone needed me to do lots of work for them.  It made me thirsty.”

“Don’t give the people what they want.  You wouldn’t be so thirsty then.” he said, without raising his head.

She sighed.

She wished she had some water to drink.  Gallons of icy water, enough to pour over her head in abandon.  Her mouth felt dry.  Her skin felt tight.

“May I have some of your water, please?” she asked finally.

“Why did you give it to me, if you wanted it back?” he asked.

“I wanted to please you.” she said, but her voice had dropped to little more than a whisper.

“Why?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders.

She didn’t reply, though she knew the answer.  She loved him – that was the answer.

A few moments passed.  She sank into a trance, feeling her muscles relaxing after the hard day’s work.

“Please may I have some of your water?” she asked.  Her stomach felt empty and she felt afraid because she knew a refusal would hurt her more than she could bear.

He was angry now.  He threw down his tools and looked at her, giving her long aggressive stare.  In silence he passed her the almost-empty second bottle.

“Here.  Can’t you see I’m working.  Have a sip, but give the bottle back to me.  I need the water more than you.  This is important work that I’m doing.”

She tipped the bottle to her lips and watched him watching her. 

“That’s enough” he said, and reached out to take the bottle from her.  “Any more and you’ll get used to it.  You shouldn’t need that much water.  If you didn’t get so thirsty, you wouln’t need to drink my water.  We should be self-sufficient, not relying on others”.

She shrugged her shoulders despondently, broken.  The sip of water had done little more than wet her lips.  Couldn’t he see that it had been her water that he was drinking?  She was still so thirsty.  She couldn’t understand why he didn’t give her his water, why he didn’t want to give her his water.

She swung her legs under the bench, looking down at her knees.  She knew her emotions were flying away with her, that soon she would be weeping whether she liked it or not, flooded by the moment.  She was so sad and so miserable.  She tried to rationalise his refusal.  Perhaps he really did not have any more water.  Perhaps for some reason he didn’t get given as much as anyone else.  Perhaps he needed more water than other people and so needed her water as well as his.  Perhaps he knew something that she didn’t know about the future and knew that he had to keep some water in reserve.  Perhaps he been denied water when he was just a boy, and so needed to keep control of what he had.  She wished she really knew how much water he had.  Perhaps he had no water to give her – wouldn’t it be unfair of her if that was the case to blame him for not giving her what he didn’t have?  Perhaps she was being unreasonable.  She was being unreasonable.  She always ended up there, with her unreasonableness which she gathered up and squashed until it took up no space.

Between them there was a gulf of pain.  She needed more water than he had given her.  He said that he had no more to give her.  Was she unreasonable needing as much water as she did?  She thought about her friends in the field.  She thought that they needed the same amount of water as her, but perhaps she was wrong.  Her whole body ached, the thirst dragging down her limbs. I am dying of thirst, she thought.   I have been slowly dying for years.  She stood up and looked out of the window. 

She saw a couple of the others from the village, a man and a woman.  The man had water under his arm too.  He smiled at her and waved.  He lifted a bottle in the air, and gestured, raising his eyebrows in a friendly smile.  He was asking her if she wanted some water.

She stepped over the gap between her needs and what the man at the bench offered her, and walked into the street and took the water and drank.  The water flowed through every pore, every capilliary, every hair on her body.  She looked up at the other man and smiled. 

“Do you want more water?” he asked.

Choose your ending …

A.  The man sitting inside at the bench put in head in his hands and wept, his sadness engulfing him, his body convulsing with sadness.  He had no words and no hope.

B.  The man sitting inside at the bench carried on working, pausing only to swig the final drops of the water bottle.

C.  The man sitting inside at the bench stopped doing what he was doing and reached down underneath the bench to find another bottle of water.

D.  The man sitting inside at the bench stopped doing what he was doing.  He got up and ran outside.  He called the girl back.  His cry stopped her in her tracks.  She turned round and they embraced each other, he sobbing as he realised how close he had allowed his history to come to stealing his future from him, she sobbing with relief.

Enjoy!  (Takes a few seconds to load)

Infinite Oz 1

I was just drifting off to sleep last night when I was rudely awoken by the immortal words:

“May I tell you about fungus on cow dung?”

 Unreal.  So, now I know all about fungus on cow dung since there was no escape.  Apparently they can “pop” their little spores twelve feet in the air to escape the surrounding grass and ensure the perpetuation of the species. 

Fascinating. 

And – if you’re in the UK – you, too, can find out by watching this wonderful series The Nature of Britain.  The fungal episode is repeated on Sunday, 21st October, at 7pm on BBC 2.   The photography is sublime and this week’s programme concentrates on the wildlife enjoying the increasingly friendly practices of farmers – organic farming, wide headlands, new hedges and so on.  There is more than mushrooms – I missed that bit.

My husband has become very keen on fungii and slime mould though I deride his Casaubon-like interest.  He has a book, signed by the author, to aid identification.  Of course, it is neither here nor there that the book is signed by the author, nor is it in the least bit reassuring, but it is exactly the sort of book that would be signed by the author, I think.

My husband came across a horde of unidentified mushrooms last weekend in the woods surrounding our house.   He was lucky, as it happens, that they were only mushrooms since other more frightening UFOs have been seen only a fungus spore away – by serious American USAF commanding officers who perhaps had been tasting their own mushrooms.

The mushrooms look like this when they are in their prime:

Or this when they are past their best:

They are called the Shaggy Ink Cap, or coprinus comatus – which doesn’t sound very nice.  My husband felt much more at home with their common name – The Lawyer’s Wig. 

Being a cautious soul with a love of life, I refused to eat them until he had consumed some and survived for several hours without ill effects.  I finally condescended to eat them sauted in an alcohol-fuelled sauce and can report that, first, I am still alive though feeling decidely unwell after a glass of wine, and, secondly, that they tasted quite good. 

Once the mushroom deterioriates it dissolves into a black mess which produces a black liquid, formerly used as ink, though the liquifecation is a survival strategy for dispersing spores.  In this putrefying state the mushroom is not good to eat, and will make tummies ache.  It may also be confused with the similar Ink Cap mushroom, coprinus atrementarius, which causes severe poisoning if consumed with alcohol …

“A compound in the mushroom has the effect of turning off the body’s ability to produce the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol. As alcohol normally goes through two enzymatic processes in the body before “safely” arriving in the bloodstream, it is essential to heed this warning to avoid seriously toxic effects.  Furthermore, a prolonged sensitivity to alcohol can persist up to 2 or 3 days following the consumption of these mushrooms.”

coprinus atrementarius 

If you are also keen on fungii, you might also like to know this about the Lawyer’s Wig:

“despite its seemingly frail appearance, this mushroom can generate enough power to perform one of nature’s most astonishing weight-lifting acts. Emerging shaggy mane caps may lift asphalt pavement into the air in segments, fragmenting it in the process. They do this by gradually absorbing water and slowly expanding, exerting upward pressure far out of proportion to their fragile substance.”

A bit like the fungus on cowpats.

Links:

Buy-your-own Lawyer’s Wig

http://www.spores101.com/edible-spore-strains.html

Frightening information on mushroom poisoning

http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/poisoning/common_symptoms.asp

img_1697.JPGimg_1700.JPG

Amazing what a few clouds and a couple of dogs do for the soul.

 

Stavros posted this You Tube clip on his website, My Greek Odyssey, and I am unashamedly borrowing it to headline this post.  Max Hastings in the Guardian on Monday reviewed a new book called Just War by Lord Charles Guthrie and Sir Michael Quinlan.  Both authors are practising Christians. 

“Nations in general, and Britain in particular, go to war with astonishing insouciance. Since the consequences are so grave, it might be thought that decisions to fight would be subject to rigorous scrutiny and analysis before the tanks roll. Not so. Anthony Eden lunged towards Suez in 1956. Margaret Thatcher dispatched a task force to the Falklands in 1982 on the basis of a visceral political calculation, not a hard-headed military one. Tony Blair all but gave George Bush a blank cheque for support of US military action, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq.

Gordon Brown has assured the House of Commons that in future it will all be different. Parliament will be fully consulted in advance. We should hope he means this, if Bush attempts a last reckless stab at Iran before quitting the White House.

Meanwhile, the prime minister would do well to spend half an hour with Just War, a new book by Lord Charles Guthrie and Sir Michael Quinlan (no more time is needed, for it is very short). The authors – respectively Britain’s best modern chief of defence staff and the cleverest defence civil servant of recent times – seek to provide a check list for national leaders contemplating military action.”

More on the book when it arrives!

Links to video clips of the Royal Anglians returning home:

BBC

BBC

My mother died just over ten years ago, in April 1997.  Her death was sudden, shocking, lonely and about as undignified as you can imagine.  

Two days earlier she had suffered an undiagnosed myocardial infarct.  We had spent the previous evening together, putting election leaflets into envelopes for my daughter’s godmother who was hoping to become a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.   My mother liked Liberal Democrats.  Although my mother had called a doctor out-of-hours complaining of sharp, retrosternal chest pain, he had simply advised her to drink some milk.  She had remained in bed over the weekend, except for when my father took her to an out-of-hours clinic where the rostered doctor could find nothing wrong.  

My father went out for the evening, and came back to find my mother dead.  The left ventricle of her heart had ruptured, causing her death.  He called an ambulance.  Another doctor had to attend to certify her death.  It happened to be my own doctor who attended: he insisted that my father phone someone.  He phoned me at 3am.  He just said “She’s gone”.  Nothing else.  Then I spoke to the doctor.  It was deeply shocking.  I remember feeling very cold and my teeth chattering.

 I was 34 years old and had two small daughters and a very busy, often absent, husband.  I went to see my father first thing the next morning, but nothing of my mother was there any more.  He moved house as soon as he could.  That day I went back home and a dear family friend came and spent the whole day with me: Her mother had died when she was very young and I will always appreciate the time she gave me then.  I joined a club of women who have lost their mothers.  I stopped being a child ever again. 

There had to be a post mortem.  I arranged the funeral, the hymns, the readings.  I gave the address at the funeral – using something I had written the morning after my mother died.  How she’d been born above a stable, like Jesus. How she’d always taught me that I was as good as anyone else which always seemed to imply that I wasn’t, because why else would I need to keep convincing myself of it?  Today I found a short account of my grandmother’s life which says just the same thing, so my mother had used the same phrases to me.  

I arranged a party after the funeral with nice food.  My sister was 36 weeks pregnant and flew back from France.  She went to see my mother’s body.  I chose not to.  After the funeral she flew back to France.  Three weeks later, instead of my mother, we went to France to be with my sister when her second child, a son, was born.  He was born on my elder daughter’s birthday just as my younger daughter had been born on my sister’s birthday. 

My father never talked about my mother again.  I said to my sister that I hoped we would be able to use my mother’s death as a reason to get on better with each other.  It didn’t work out like that. I didn’t cry hardly at all.  My husband doesn’t think I grieved.  I probably stuffed it all away, but where else was there for it to go?  I went away for a day and bought three new pairs of shoes.  I had two children who needed me to be strong and who didn’t understand about death and mothers.  My elder daughter tried to console me.  She said “It’s alright, Mummy, you’ve got a spare.  Granny Oxford can by your Mummy now”.  Everyone expected me to be strong and nobody asked if I was OK.  I just kept on being what everyone wanted me to be.   

I went to see my mother’s doctor to ask whether he thought he would have been able to diagnose her heart attack if he had seen her.  He said that he hoped the little gremlin that sat on his shoulder would have prompted him to be concerned.  My mother knew the doctor who failed to identify her heart attack – he had bought the car he was driving from her as we had met when our first children were born on the same day.  I knew, therefore, that he had previously failed to diagnose a heart attack and a patient had died and he had been the subject of a complaint. 

Six months after her death I decided to make a formal complaint myself.  The doctor who had seen her at the clinic just before her death wrote to say that she had had a “silent myocardial infarction” and that he was sorry that he could not make a diagnosis of heart trouble but that “as is often the case in medicine, the diagnosis is only clear if looked at retrospectively”.   As a result of my complaint, two alterations were made to the out-of-hours systems.  First, doctors on call were advised if a patient they had seen died within a short period of their duty.  I thought this would help them to learn from their diagnosis.  Secondly, the computer system was altered to show whether a patient had made an out-of-hours call within the previous three months.  I thought this would give the on-call doctor some more information with which to make his diagnosis.  As far as I am aware, my mother had never called a doctor out-of-hours before.   I don’t know if these systems are still in place.  At the time I thought they were at least something positive. 

I wanted to have good, happy memories of my mother.  But instead I remembered asking her why she never praised me and that she replied that I should not need praise, and then I imagined never giving my children any praise and imagining their faces and I could not feel happy.  I remembered how she used to mock my love of beautiful things:  I remembered how I went to London and was so proud to buy two metres of silk fabric from Liberty’s and how my mother asked me why I wanted it when I couldn’t wash it.  I could only remember her coming to collect me from school once: I have vivid memories of the long car journey back when I stood on the back seat of the bubble-car Fiat 500 with my head out of the sunroof.  My sister went to school very near our house: she left home an hour after me each day and my mother collected her.  I remembered once not being able to sleep when I was a teenager because I was worried about getting breast cancer, and asking her for reassurance.  I don’t think she ever said that she loved me, though she probably did.  I remembered how even on my wedding day she could not tell me that I looked nice, and how it made me sad then.  It still makes me sad, which is why I don’t think about it most of the time. 

Recently I found a bundle of letters written to me when I worked in Brussels.  There are several from my mother.  They are businesslike and scolding.  I was not as organised or economical as she would have liked.  I think she thought I was profligate.  I suppose I was – to someone who had been brought up as she had been.  When I look at pictures of myself as a child, after about the age of ten, I am always wearing clothes that I made myself.  That makes me sad too.  I so much wanted pretty things.  She didn’t think appearances were important, probably because she didn’t like her own.  I used to buy her expensive clothes when I had money, but I don’t think she knew what to do with them.  I don’t think we saw things the same way at all. 


After her death I had to pack all her clothes away, not that there were many.  I found a little pot with jewellery in on her chest-of-drawers.  Inside it I found a tiny plastic pot of the sequins that we had sewed together on my second-hand lace wedding dress.  That surprised me.  I kept the sequins, and a gold bracelet.  A few years later, we were burgled and the pot was taken.  It is the sequins that I miss the most.  I have nothing that belonged to her any more. 
She was cremated and my father arranged for her to have a brick in the crematorium wall, just like his father and mother.  I have been to see it once.  That’s all there is left.  Just another brick in a wall.

modern-acropolis-museum.jpg

This wonderful photograph took up a whole half page in the Guardian yesterday:  I remembered the rainbow a week ago.

Last Sunday the first sculptures began to be moved from the Acropolis to the new museum built to house them in Athens.  About 4,500 items in total will be moved or taken out of storage over the next three months, and the museum will open to the public in 2008.  The scale reproduction of the upper gallery of the Parthenon temple will lack the original sculptures, still housed in the British Museum after having been looted from the temple between 1801 and 1805 by the Seventh Earl of Elgin under authority given by the ruling Ottoman empire.  Elgin ruined himself financially in the course of their acquisition and had to pawn them forever to the new British Museum.  Not only did the Earl have to suffer the indignity of financial ruin for his troubles (he believed he was saving the marbles from being broken up by marauding hordes), he had to suffer the public humiliation of being pilloried by Lord Byron in a famous poem.  As if that wasn’t enough his nose fell off, and his wife divorced him in a lurid trial.

Here’s an extract from an essay about the marbles and the nose and their effect on Elgin’s marriage:

“It was evident to the court that Elgin’s busy diplomatic schedule, his ceaseless ferrying around the Eastern Mediterranean in an attempt to secure British interests against Napoleon, not less than his monomaniacal interest in antiquities, had put much strain on the relationship. But it is not this neglect, hardly unusual in a man of Elgin’s class and position anyway, that comes across as having the gravest implications for the nuptial bond. Rather, it is Elgin’s ill-health, specifically, a degenerative condition of the face concentrated in the nose, that appears to have determined the course of Lady Elgin’s disaffection. The prosecutor’s examination of Elgin’s ambassadorial secretary, William Hamilton, reads:

- Mr. Hamilton, would you say that this withdrawal on the part of  
Lady Elgin was due to a definite reason? 
- Yes. While in Constantinople, Lord Elgin contracted a sever ague 
which  consequently resulted in the loss of his nose. 
- Mr. Hamilton, would you say that her Ladyship's interest in 
Lord Elgin began to wane at this point? 
- Yes.

The transcripts of the proceedings record a considerable commotion in the courtroom at this testimony, an uproar repeated when another of Elgin’s secretaries, John Morier, was asked for his observations on Lady Elgin’s conduct toward Lord Elgin:

- In the beginning she was a most affectionate wife and mother. 
- Do you mean to say that her Ladyship's conduct changed? 
- Yes. 
- When exactly? 
- As Lord Elgin's affliction became more serious. 
- You are referring to the loss of his lordship's nose? 
- I am.

Not surprisingly, there are no portraits of Lord Elgin in later life, and we can rely only on Lady Elgin’s letters and a few inconclusive doctor’s reports for our assessment of the gravity of Elgin’s condition, but it seems not unreasonable to describe the wasting disease he suffered from as having eaten away the greater part of his face. The diagnosis of one Harley Street physician is worth quoting, if only as a fine example of the periphrastic style long honored by the medical profession as expedient to those occasions when one has no idea what one is looking at:

A sore, established in the nose, supposing it was brought on by picking or any similar accident, would naturally, by full living and sedentary life…[become] very inflammatory and ultimately an obstinate ulcer.”

The British public have consistently shown their support for returning the marbles to Athens but neither the British Museum nor the government would be drawn into the debate over the weekend.    The British Museum web-page devoted to the “Parthenon Marbles” describes how Elgin rescued the remaining marbles with the full consent of the Turks and after half had been destroyed and how a Parliamentary Select Committee fully investigated and approved the Earl’s actions.  Today the Museum’s position is this:

“The British Museum’s Trustees argue that the Parthenon sculptures are integral to the Museum’s purpose as a world museum telling the story of human cultural achievement. Here Greece’s cultural links with the other great civilizations of the ancient world, especially Egypt, Assyria, Persia and Lycia, can be clearly seen, and the vital contribution of ancient Greece to the development of later cultural achievements in Europe, Asia, and Africa can be followed and understood.

The current division of the surviving sculptures between ten museums, with about equal quantities present in Athens and London, allows different and complementary stories to be told about them, focusing respectively on their importance for the history of Athens and Greece, and their significance for world culture. This, the Museum’s Trustees believe, is an arrangement that confers maximum public benefit for the world at large.”

The British ambassador to Athens said on Sunday “It’s a very impressive museum, but I can’t say much more than that”.  Which is, indeed, not saying a lot.

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