Happy New Year!
All the best from,
A perfect Sunday afternoon
This was my first visit to the Museum of London that nestles against a section of preserved Roman wall, a short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. Innovative in its design, the museum’s nine (free) galleries—that span from pre-history to the modern era—are laid out such that the visitor must follow them chronologically.
A time of mammoths and lions
The pre-history gallery (450,000 AD to 50 AD) informed me of the mammoths and lion that once roamed the marshland that was later transformed into the great city. There were plenty of bones (some carved) and skulls. Though the artefacts were crude (great cutting flints, rusted axes, battered knives), they were poignant too, as I imagined the early people that lived here. Was it a better time? A worse time? A reconstruction of a woman’s head that oozed humanity, caught my attention.
The arrival of the Romans changed everything. Astonishing delicacy of metalwork that included combes, knives, spoons and jewellery vied with sympathetically carved statues. A Roman room looked both familiar (chairs, sofa, hearth, wall decorations) and inviting. Who needs carpet when you can have an extraordinarily ornate mosaic floor?
Then came the medieval galleries that started with the Anglo-Saxons. They named their town “Lundenwic” (London-port), where busy merchants could beach their vessels on the riverbank and haul their fare to one of several markets. I marvelled again at the shields, spears and axes, the pottery and exquisite metalwork displayed in the jewellery cabinets.
Within the old Roman city wall, the first St Paul’s cathedral was built of timber. When the Vikings attacked in 842 and 851, the new city was abandoned.
Death, death and rebirth
The 1550s to 1650s was a period of war, plague (1665)–that may have accounted for 200 million deaths across Eurasia—and the Great Fire (1666) that started at Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane. Though the death toll was considered small, the fire consumed 13,200 homes, 87 churches and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the end of the wooden city as the rebuild comprised much brick and stone. There was a model of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre that brought back memories of the plays (Othello, Hamlet) I studied at school.
1670s – 1850s
The next two centuries saw a massive expanse in the city’s size and culture. I loved the reconstructed “Pleasure Gardens”—where residents would dress up in their finest to enjoy fresh air and flirting. London was now the world’s largest city and the country’s main manufacturing centre. Great fortunes were made and lost with those on the losing end finding themselves locked up in the forbidding Debtors’ Prison, to be observed via the tiny window in the thick iron-reinforced oak door. Carvings in the salvaged cell timbers recorded many names and dates. Fortunately, there wasn’t a “Starling” amongst the prisoners.
The next gallery took us up to the modern era, and the Second World War. An impressive display detailed the 50-year struggle of women suffragettes until they were granted the vote in 1918. I understand a full gallery dedicated to this important period in history is due to open next year, to mark the centenary.
A beautifully reconstructed street, including a toy shop, a barbers and pub had me spellbound as did a 1908 taxi, resplendent in its black livery and white-walled tyres. There was Art Deco too—with a homage to that great hotel, the Savoy. It opened in 1889 and was funded from the profits of Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
Leaving something for next time
And then it was time to leave. But no matter as the 1950s to today, and the 2012 Gallery will be awaiting me on my next visit. As will the suffragette gallery in which I’ll learn about the struggles of extraordinary women like Winifred Rix, Kitty Marshall, Emily Wilding and the mother and daughters Pankhurst.
Tourist or townie, I strongly recommend the Museum of London.
Ben performed live at the Hackney Picturehouse
A Bit About a Rolemodel
London UK, December 11, 2017.
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Just back after a couple of days volunteering to help out one of my favourite charities, Good Lad Initiative (GLI). I helped staff a table at the 2017 Being a Man (BAM) festival, held in London’s Southbank Centre.
A packed 3 day event
There were early morning runs, comedians, a talk by Man Booker Prizewinning author Allan Hollinghurst, LEGO workshops for kids, a lecture on ‘How to be a Superman? Gender Equity for Boys’, a Finnish shouting choir, music,… and much more.
Good Lad Intiative
The crowd ebbed and flowed past our GLI table. I spoke to several teachers who were interested in booking us for their schools. An aspiring actor completing his Master’s in drama was looking for ideas for a 40 minute single-man performance. A psychologist dropped by: she engaged me in a discussion about male suicide (which accounts for 75% of suicides in the UK).
I took contact details for a number of potential volunteers and got to meet other GLI team members. I was impressed by the interest, the enthusiasm, the desire to facilitate change.
What does GLI do?
It trains men to run workshops in all-male school classrooms, for pupils aged 12-18, which address issues of gender equality and masculinity. We encourage them to talk openly using the media of role playing, games and exercises.
It’s fascinating to see the pupils challenging their preconceptions and peer pressure, as they articulate thoughts on various topics, often for the first time. At the end of the day, their feedback—which tends to be highly positive—is analysed. But of course, when I was at school, I’d probably have given anything five stars that replaced three hours of geography and math(s)!
Making a difference
‘Being a man’ is a huge—and until quite recently—a largely neglected topic. I’m constantly learning and questioning my preconceptions. Good Lad Intiative is one of those initiatives that deserves to succeed because it’s really making a difference.
The Big Question
It’s been coming up in conversation a lot recently: “Is it too late to save the oceans?”
Perhaps the Professor would answer it…
With that question in mind, a crisp evening not too long ago saw me travelling twenty-one stops on the tube and Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich University. I was attending a lecture by Visiting Professor Steve Fletcher PhD, of the United Nations Environment Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre!
The lecture title? “The Future of the Ocean: Health, Wealth and Biodiversity”.
But first – the Cutty Sark!
But before hunting down the proper lecture hall, a quick moonlight inspection of the Cutty Sark. This magnificent tea clipper was built in 1869 and recently restored at a cost of £46m following extensive damage caused by fire.
As I studied her pitched, sweeping hull, her proud masts with their triangulated rigging, I wondered at the state of the ocean when she raced back with tea from the Americas and wool from Australia.
She launched just seven years after Alexander Parkes demonstrated plastic (or “Parkesine”, as he named it) at London’s Great International Exhibition in 1862. With the arrival of steam power, the great ship was soon rendered obsolete. I wonder if Mr Parkes ever imagined the benefits and damage later iterations of his invention would bring.
Greenwich University—a maritime tradition, a maritime lecture
Once inside the spacious lecture hall, I noticed that the attentive audience (to my untrained eye) contained many students and I spoke to one, well into his doctoral thesis on the oceans, who’d attended my alma mater, Oxford.
$190 billion per year
Then the professor started, by painting a rather grim picture.
Did you know that the global seafood industry is worth $190bn but only 6.4% of the ocean is protected? If fish were people, the equivalent is that every one of us would be carrying half a kg of plastic in our stomachs.
The professor discussed illegal fishing (and the link to people and drug trafficking), pollution, the cruise industry, and the damage caused by a host of other human activities. 70% of the Great Barrier Reef has now been lost.
One slide of four turtles drowned by a discarded fishing net (known as “ghost fishing”), was particularly upsetting. We were reminded of the 1992 “Warning to Humanity” by 1,700 scientists of where we were headed if things didn’t change. And all this was supported by a series of well-chosen slides.
The professor isn’t alone…
But there was good news too. Teams of politicians and NGOs, often enabled by the UN, are now meeting around the world to agree protocols, set targets, honour commitments.
…even the white spotted wedge fish is on side!
Important (for a variety of reasons) species—such as the white spotted wedge fish—are now targeted for special conservation attention. I admit I had to google that one when I got home, to discover I knew it as the guitarfish I’ve seen on occasion resting on the sand in tropical shallows.
Opinion leaders, and the not-for-profit sector are finally being heard. The general public is beginning to wake up with economic, social, political and wellbeing issues associated with the ocean at the top of the agenda. And things are beginning to happen about plastic: the UK’s consumption of plastic carrier bags has dropped 85% since the introduction of a 5p tax per bag. Make it £5, I say, and do the same with plastic coffee cups and drinking strays!
…back to the Big Question
Asked at the end whether he thought it was too late, the professor answered that he’s an optimist, and thinks we can turn this situation around. He explained that the time has come to embrace the environment and treat it as a partner.
The old model of human activity necessarily causing environmental damage should be changed to one in which there’s a mutuality. Protect the ocean and we’ll all benefit. That makes sense to me. And no doubt to white spotted wedge fish too.
Ben performs On Being a Mirror Twin
live at The Ritzy, UK on November 20th, 2017. A London SPARK event.
For more videos from Ben, subscribe to his Channel at
For more about Ben’s books, check them out here.
He looks forward to seeing you soon!