Saturday, December 11, 2010


I may have been wearing a jumper and a vest but I did have lunch on the outside balcony of our local restaurant on the beach. There was a brisk, blustery wind and the paper place mat had to be held down with the wine bottle and the knife and fork but the sun was in my face and it was acceptable.

I was, of course, the only person not wearing a coat and the only person not looking as though they were very much braving the elements sitting in the open air!

While the meal was perfectly acceptable the view over the sea looking towards the headland in the distance at the end of the sweep of the beach with the sun slowly sinking was breathtaking.

The incentive to leave the restaurant and go home was what had arrived early in the morning.

Having been brought up on Radio 4, I am a true disciple of the “unconsidered trifle” approach towards human knowledge. I delight in the squirreling away of unrelated facts, opinions and assertions like some sort of bookish magpie - and what arrived this morning feeds this need.

Having heard a few of the broadcasts I was eagerly awaiting the book which simply had to be produced to go with the series and Amazon (god bless it) afforded me the opportunity to get the book at cut price so that even with the postage and package I still managed to save almost ten quid.

“A History of the World in 100 Objects” by Neil MacGregor is published by an impressive trinity of The British Museum, the BBC and Allen Lane. It is a delight.

Where else, in one set of hardback covers, could I have found out that the blue colour in the Hokusai woodcut of The Great Wave is actually Prussian Blue and not a native Japanese pigment and therefore the print is a reflection of the opening up of Japanese society rather than a stylized statement of its otherness; that Lothair (he of the Crystal showing the story of Suzanna and the naughty elders and a descendant of Charlemagne) was King of Lotharingia a country squashed between the greater possessions of Charles the Bald in the west and Louis the German in the east. This country was devoured by his neighbours after his death but, and this is what I didn’t know, the name of Lotharingia survives in the name of Lorraine!

If things like that don’t interest you then I can only echo with Mr T and say, “I pity the fool!”

The book is a treasure trove, both literally and in a descriptive sense as MacGreggor’s writing is short and to the point and aimed quite clearly at the general reader.

The range, as you would expect if you could draw on the resources of an institution like the British Museum is astonishing ranging from the pebble looking stone sculpture of the Ain Sakhri Lovers Figurine of 9000BC to the much more detailed lovers in the rather surprisingly explicit Warren Cup from Roman times from some 9000 years later.

From The Rosetta Stone to a gold VISA card the objects defy expectation and the urge to read is akin to that I feel when I inadvertently open The Guinness Book of Records and lose myself inside. I fear that this book is going to make my everyday conversation even more unbearable than it is at the moment. After all Radio 4 listeners are few and far between in this part of the world so I have the field clear to drop interesting pieces of information into any conversations in which I happen to find myself!

Back to the book!
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