One of the minor pleasures of being in London is seeing its architecture and street life reflected in its many and varied plate glass windows.
The journey from Kings Cross to William-and-parents’-house starts as I take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Lewisham. I pass the busy financial area of Canary Wharf with its skyscrapers and waterside plazas and docklands. Here are reflections a-plenty: even, as we travel through a tunnel, the passengers in our own carriage reflected in the window of the next.
The skyscrapers of Canary Wharf as spotted from the station.
Office buildings along the DLR route.
On my way home, I might pass through the City of London, as I did the other day when visiting the Mithraeum. I didn’t call into St. Stephen Walbrook this time. I confined myself to admiring its exterior as reflected in the new office buildings which surround it.
In the city of London, wedged between Cannon Street and Bank stations, is hidden the London Mithraeum, or Temple of Mithras.
These days, the site is more easily identified as belonging to the financial company Bloomberg, but enter their building to be directed downstairs, and there you’ll find the temple, dating from the last days of the Romans in Britain – maybe from about AD 410.
It was first discovered in the 1950s, during post-war reconstruction of the heavily blitzed City of London. The remains of the temple were dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere in the 1960s, but its inaccuracies were widely criticised, so when Bloomberg acquired the site they worked with conservation specialist to dismantle and then reassemble and partially reconstruct the temple closer to its original position, and with a fuller understanding of the materials used and its original structure.
The deity Mithras is a mystery. He was worshipped by men only. There are images of him killing a bull in temples dedicated to him found throughout the territory of the Roman Empire. Perhaps this is part of a creation or fertility myth: nobody knows for sure.
Here in London, we can visit the foundations of the temple, and witness an evocation of the kind of ceremonies that might have taken place there: chanting, hazy light, an aura of religious fervour. We can imagine the congregation seated in the two side aisles, looking into the central nave of a windowless building, lit by lamps and torches, and gazing at the statue of Mithras housed in the apse – now only the head remains.
Reconstructed stonework of the apse.
On the ground floor above the temple remains is evidence of the prosperous London community where the temple was situated. Here is a display of combs; keys; drinking vessels; leather shoes and boots; bracelets; glass phials; pewter vessels. They tell a story of a busy commercial quarter, crammed with small workshops and dwellings built on ground reclaimed from the marshy land surrounding the river Walbrook.
This slice of Roman London life is so well interpreted. There is plenty of time to explore the temple site, and to examine at your leisure (with the help of freely provided inter-active tablets) the hundreds of artefacts recovered nearby. And as you enter the space, you’ll find ‘London in its Original Splendour’, an installation by Paolo Bronstein which envelops the gallery in a complex and decorative ‘wallpaper’, rich in Renaissance and Classical architectural detail – a homage to the likes of Christopher Wren and John Soane who were themselves indebted to the architectural legacy of the classical past.
Exploring this site takes about an hour, but the impression it leaves of life in Roman London will last far longer. And it’s free.
I’ve had a black cloud sitting over my head for weeks. Brexit; the parlous state of British politics; the recent visit of a certain Head of State; the current hostile environment for immigrants – you name it. I’m not sure that there has ever been a time when external events over which I have little control have so got me down.
So thank goodness for white clouds: the ones that accompany long sunny days, blue skies and outdoor pursuits. Stratus, cumulus, cirrus, cumulonimbus …. the very names are rhythmic and poetic, and watching them as they drift, mass, diminish and dissolve is the perfect way to calm a troubled, anxious mind. Hooray for actual, rather than metaphorical clouds.
Recently, I promised a post about books that got rave reviews from everyone but me. And in the end, I haven’t done it. It turned out there weren’t so many after all.
So instead, I’m going to tell you about a book which I enjoyed, hugely, even though it’s about politics, which I don’t enjoy hugely (Does anybody, anywhere at the moment?). This is a thoroughly out-of-character read for me.
It’s Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton. And it’s about Prime Ministers’ Question time, that peculiarly British institution when once a week on Wednesdays, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition face one another across a crowded chamber, filled with heckling, shouting, cheering and far-from-silent MPs.
I was drawn in from the first sentences.‘ You’re the Leader of the Opposition. it’s your job to choose one of the week’s top political news stories and write six questions to the Prime Minister about it. Not exam questions, not questions you might ask an expert, but awkward, hostile questions that will put the Prime Minister on the back foot ….’.
I was immediately interested. This book describes how PMQs play a defining role in British politics. This once-a-week contest between Prime Minister and Opposite Number forces each of the pair not only to prepare well, backed by a team of advisers, but to examine their own policies, and understand where and why they might be weak. Preparing to spar with their opponent, undermining them with clever questions, a wounding joke, an unreturnable rejoinder is an important and time-consuming part of their routine. Some participants have performed well – even extremely well: William Hague, David Cameron and Tony Blair generally rose well to the occasion. Others did not. Ian Duncan Smith never shone, and the current sparring partners, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn bring no spark to the event.
Understanding more of this weekly show, and its purpose in building or destroying morale among the troops (the MPs), in providing fodder for the press, and in fine tuning policy has been illuminating.
It’s a thorough, informative and funny account of this peculiarly British institution. Of course I read it enthusiastically: one of the authors, Tom Hamilton, is my son.
‘Dappled’ is such a summery word. It speaks of strolling through woodland on a sunny day, as the sunlight dances through the tree canopy to brindle the path below. It defines the russet spots that stipple the silvery trout weaving around in a clear and still-flowing stream. It describes a piebald foal frisking in a field alongside its mother. And it’s sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows of a parish church, painting the cold stone floor with warmth.
Woodland near the Strid, Wharfedale.
I couldn’t manage a trout or a horse. My daughter’s dog Brian can stand in for both.
Ripley Parish Church.
That’s why I chose ‘Dappled’ as my Ragtag word prompt on this July day.
Followers of this blog will be familiar with images of verdant meadows, of rolling green hillsides studded with sheep, of grasses swaying in the breeze – all illustrating our walks round Yorkshire.
Today though, I’m going to show you the same Yorkshire scenery, as it looks after a fortnight’s heatwave: the kind of consistently sunny weather that I can’t remember enjoying since I was pregnant with my son, back in 1976. We’re not used to this. Meals are taken in the garden. Our yoga class happens on the cricket pitch. Evenings are spent out of doors.
And the grumbling has started. ‘Eeh, it’s too ‘ot. It’s not natural, is it? I’ve ‘ad enough, me’ Not me. I’ll gladly lug watering cans about to water the flowerpots round the door. Though it might keep everyone happy if we could have nightly rainfall, strictly between the hours of 11.00 p.m. and 5.00 a.m.
A bridge over the diminished River Wharfe.
Luckily the trees are still coping without rain.
Not a recently harvested crop. Just dry grass.
They cut the hay a few weeks ago. No more grass has grown since then.
That cloud seemed to promise rain. None materialised.
When the WordPress Daily Prompts and Photo Challenges unexpectedly and abruptly stopped, many bloggers felt deprived. Some already had prompting challenges of their own: but a group of disheartened bloggers somehow connected together and set about replicating the WordPress prompts under the banner Ragtag Daily Prompt. They began on 1st June.
However, they had a couple of vacancies. They advertised. I applied. They offered me the Tuesday spot. You can find my first post here today.
Here’s the story of how bloggers from four continents formed a community which writers, photographers, poets are joining by contributing their work. Daily blogging ain’t for me. But I do love a weekly prompt, and connecting with others from all points of the compass. Thanks to all you fellow-bloggers whom I’ve come to know in the last few years: it’s been enriching.
Today, I’m not offering much. I’m simply showing you three photos, all illustrating the first word I’ve chosen: ‘serried‘.