Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Contextual Studies. With Added Viking.

I was in Sweden over the summer and took some time out to go to a re-creation of a Viking settlement at Foteviken. I, and my kids, loved it. Smiths were forging nails, tanners were scraping hides, cooks were boiling up huge vats of stew. We felt like time-travellers. Towards the exit we saw a figurehead from a Viking longship.

It looked strangely familiar, and, back in London, it became apparent why.

In the British Museum I stumbled across an original figurehead from a  Viking longship, looking uncannily like the one in Sweden. I'd seen it before.

So the question is, which one is the most significant? 

The one in Sweden is a fake, made a few years ago. But it sits in context, with the beach just below, the gulls wheeling overhead and the wind in the long grasses. It requires no great stretch of imagination for us to see and feel how life was, and how important this figurehead must have been. We're inspired and engaged, something visceral has happened, even if we don't know anything about the fearsome head. This strong emotional engagement can be the catalyst for a lifetime of interest that might lead anywhere. It provides impetus.

In the BM, there's a neat label describing it, so we have a lot of information, but it's presented in the neo-classical context of a London museum, replete with wall-eyed tourists wondering where the nearest McDonalds might be. It feels sanitised and lost. Something wild has been caged.

This was the same problem that I felt the BM had with it's Viking exhibition earlier in the year. Lots of information - no inspiration. Bloodless. Which is a terrible fate to befall anything to do with Vikings.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Treasures of Many Kinds

To Salisbury to talk over some ideas for Magna Carta next year. Along with the BL and Lincoln, Salisbury have one of the only four remaining copies of this pragmatic and unexpectedly profound document. Talking to the various parties I sense an unspoken competition as to who has the best copy. Diplomatically I write off the one damaged by the Cotton fire now held at the BL and declare the others all wonderful but different.

The last time I was here, ten years ago, I'd walked from London on my way south-west. Arriving in the city somewhat sore, I went straight to a chemist and bought some startlingly powerful anti-inflammatories that sorted out a pain in my knee. I remember sitting on the green after looking round the cathedral. 

Inside the great building I'd found a remarkable relic: allegedly the oldest clock in the world.With it's bare skeletal construction it didn't seem possible that this device could tell the time at all, let alone have done it since 1386.

Outside was the tragic sculpture of the Walking Madonna by Elizabeth Frink that made a powerful impression on me that day.

In my diary I'd written:

"I found it looking as if Mary had just come from evensong, her path leading from the cathedral doors. She was an older Mary, thin, with ribs showing, a look of bemused grief on her pinched face. She could only be the mother walking alone back from Golgotha. Her son crucified, and her old certainties turned upside down."

To see these three things, the cathedral, the charter, the clock and the statue was a privilege and together they formed a strange hymn. Time, order, worship, wonder, grief and beauty.

All in the name of work.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Apple Mac Turns 30

That was what they were called when I first got my hands on one in 1986 - an Apple Mac. I was working for a financial institution in a large grey building. We had two computers in the office - an IBM XT and an IBM AT. They sat on their own desks and the operators would approach them as a craftsman would his lathe. They did one thing (crunch numbers) and you needed to treat them with respect or else things might go Horribly Wrong.

Nomenclature is a funny thing. All computers had geeky, alphanumeric names and seemed for initiates only. So when I persuaded an Apple dealer to let me borrow something called an Apple Mac for a couple of weeks I became an inadvertent IT rockstar. Perched perkily on my desk the Mac had a greyscale screen (not green), ran a GUI rather than command-line, and had a mouse ("Look, I move this little box on a wire, and that arrow on the screen follows it's movements!"). I used MacWrite and MacPaint to basically play for ten glorious days until it was taken away again, and I was plunged back into the world of words and numbers.

But it opened a window on a world that I began to inhabit full-time 5 years later. That of designing things on screen or for screen. It changed my world. I could have been an analyst and instead I work with some of the most precious things in the world and the most interesting people.

So to mark the shift and the progression, here's a list of the Macs I've had since then.

Mac IIci
Mac IIfx
PowerBook 170
Quadra 660AV
Power Mac 8100
Power Mac G4
Mac Pro G5
Mac Pro Dual Core Xeon
Cube G4
iMac G3 DV
PowerBook G3
iBook G4
Mini Core Duo
Mini Core i5
Macbook Core 2 Duo
Macbook Pro Core 2 Duo
MacBook Pro Core i5