Friday, 25 February 2022

Now I have to pay £3,500 to get my caravan on the road again

Here's my beloved caravan at the the Sussex Caravan and Motorhome Centre at Ashington, north of Worthing. I'd just towed it there for its annual service, after emptying out. This was on 16th February. I expected to have new tyres, but otherwise get away with only the usual checks and attentions. Let's say a £600 bill.

I have a long association with this dealership, and I am a well-known customer. They may have only sold me one caravan, but the annual maintenance work, plus occasional big repair and replacement jobs, have given them good business. 

I bought my caravan there in November 2006, and have had it serviced annually by them ever since. Usually I get away with routine checks on structure, running gear, and the gas, electricity and water systems - a comprehensive 'MOT' in fact. 

But caravans are essentially lightweight cabins on wheels, and the shaking and bumping they get when towed gradually loosens them up. In any case tyres become too old to be legal, and, bit by bit, various things wear out. My caravan will be sixteen years old by the end of this year, and is in remarkably good condition, considering all the use it gets each year, and how far I tow it in my travels. 

But it isn't immortal. At some stage I will have to write it off. That time hasn't come yet, but it will. Then I will have to consider giving up caravanning - a source of 'cheap-as-chips' holidays, if you own one - or invest in a replacement. A caravan can be towed by a conventional diesel car, or an electric one, so if I did get something else, it wouldn't be waste of money, so long as I wanted to holiday in a caravan (which I would always want to) and have a car capable of towing it (I'm sure I always would).   

Currently a new caravan like mine - if I were forced to buy one - would cost me about £20,000 or so. A good used one, six or seven years old, £10,000. So I measure the cost of any repairs that crop up against these figures. As the title of this post suggests, I am now looking at spending £3,500. That's £715 for the service itself (all the tyres had to be replaced, the spare included; and, unexpectedly, a wheel bearing), and some £2,800 for extensive damp-proofing work, mostly labour. 

It's a no-brainer. £3,500 is the final nail in the coffin so far as my 2022 savings plans are concerned, but much the lesser outlay compared with getting a new (or newer) caravan. So I've said yes. I should have my caravan back early next week, and then I'll be ready for the year's holidays: 99 nights away. Well, I do want to get my money's worth!

So what is that £2,800 on damp-proofing for? 

Basically rain-water and dew have been getting in behind aluminium rails and similar metal strips all over the caravan exterior. These metal strips, such as the long awning rails, are fixed to the aluminium roof and sides with screws, and sealed with mastic. The awning rails are the long strips you can see in this shot of the caravan down in Devon last year: 

The nearside awning rail runs from the front corner, at floor level, then all the way upwards and along, finally curving downwards towards the back corner. On the other side of the caravan is a similar aluminium strip. If a section of rail works loose - and they get a battering from twigs and branches on narrow country lanes - the sealing is exposed and, if it is old, water may get in and seep inside. The top section of the awning rail covers the important junction of roof and side wall. It's especially important that no water gets in anywhere along there. 

But every hatch - and the entrance doorway itself - is a potential location for water ingress as seals degenerate with time. That side-hatch in the photo just above is where I stow tins and other bulk goods after a visit to the local supermarket. Here's a close-up:

It's a cool and shady place - good for potatoes and fruit, as well as tins and kitchen rolls. But you can clearly see the potential for water getting in, if that hatch door develops a leaky spot. 

Well, although nothing can be seen inside the caravan, damp is getting in. I spent twenty minutes in the workshop with Owen, the service manager, as he showed me with his electronic damp detector exactly where the moisture readings were high. There was a pattern to the damp ingress: it was mostly along the metal rails running the length of the caravan, and concentrated in the bottom corners. The floor at each nearside corner was actually a little damp to the touch. At the moment it would - given fine weather - all dry out, as will no doubt happen this summer if it's a hot one. But prolonged exposure to rain will only make the dampness worse. And once damp takes hold, and mould begins, a caravan is doomed. 

Bottom line: they could treat just the individual high-reading spots, and charge me less. But Owen recommended continuous treatment front to rear, a full job, if I wanted the caravan to be waterproof for years ahead. 

I asked him whether they was anything about my caravan - something mechanical or electrical say - that would stop it functioning at some point and make spending £2,800 on damp-proofing a waste of good money. There wasn't. In which case, it was worth doing. Extensive dismantling had already taken place, so they could get on with the work at once. Three or four days. 

So there matters stand. I'm philosophical. At some point, those seals would fail. It's a pity that they have done so this year, when I've already spent a small fortune on my car, and will have to meet the cost of a new boiler this summer. But once all that stuff is out of the way, I'm good for a long time ahead. 

The new costs don't impinge on my holiday budget. That's ring-fenced. I will just look to get the very most from my 99 nights away. The Grand Tour of Scotland included. My goodness, I shall savour every moment!

Sunday, 20 February 2022

A town centre tree falls at Bude

Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin haven't been kind to trees. So many have come down. Especially those prominent ones with wide, wind-catching canopies, which are often major landmarks. 

I was saddened to learn of one particular tree in the North Cornwall seaside town of Bude, which fell to Storm Eunice two days ago. It stood in one corner of a small park in the town centre, where roads meet. It was a big tree with spreading branches, and in summer it provided welcome shade to people sitting in the park. It will be sorely missed. 

I first saw it in 1973, when I was twenty-one. I had persuaded Mum and Dad to forsake the beach near Padstow and drive us all up the coast to Bude for a change. I was never one for roasting myself all day on the sand. I was restless, and getting a sun-tan bored me. I wanted to get out and around. But I was yet to pass my driving test (though I soon would), and was tied to whatever Mum and Dad wanted to do. At least I was getting an entirely free Cornish holiday. I rather fancy I was doing the driving on this occasion, converting the trip into a pre-test practice drive. It's something I would have suggested. I loved driving back then, and have done throughout my life. 

So here are Mum, Dad and and my young brother Wayne standing in that Bude park, next to that tree that has now fallen, in August 1973, while I took the shot. This was forty-nine years ago, and the tree - though well-established and getting mature -  still hadn't put on much weight:

The tree appears in several of my pictures of Bude as the years roll by. Here it is ten years later, in February 1983, when I was on my honeymoon:

Even then it was becoming an iconic feature of Bude town centre. Here it is in June 2006:

By now the town council must have been making efforts to shape and contain its growth, so that high vehicles could get past. But it looks little diminished in these two shots from August 2011:

By September 2015 the tree was looking positively gigantic. Just look at its girth in the lower of these two shots.

By March 2018 it was far and away the most dominant feature of the town centre, dwarfing everything else in the vicinity:

In view of what has now happened to this impressive tree, I feel very fortunate to have taken these two shots in July 2021, only seven months before its death:

It just shows how photographing a town over a long period can eventually reveal a story, and provide a momento of something well-loved but now gone. Little did those people in the park realise what was in the wind only a few months ahead.

The tree's fall on the morning of 18th February, a victim of Storm Eunice, was recorded by a passer-by on his phone. The video soon went viral. Here are some still frames from the report in the North Devon News:

Presumably the man who videoed the fall heard the tree groaning, and this prompted him to get his phone trained on it just before the wind pushed it over. It seems to have mostly demolished the park it stood in. Well, I'll be in Bude in early April and can contemplate whatever remains. Maybe by then the park will have been tidied up, and a new tree planted. 

I'm thinking that several readers will remember this tree and mourn its loss. Bude will never be quite the same.

I've had enough. Goodbye, Amazon.

I last foamed at the mouth about Amazon not long ago, with their announcement that they were no longer going to accept payment from Visa credit card holders, myself being one. See my post Amazon are likely to lose a customer soon on 28th December. That issue has been resolved, and a couple of days ago Amazon emailed me to confirm that Visa payments would still be accepted. A deal has been done, and my guess is that Visa gave away the most ground. If so, Visa will be looking for ways to recoup lost revenue, which may mean slightly higher costs for other retailers, which will ultimately be passed on to Visa users. Nobody wins except Amazon. Huh. At least I can still use my Visa card - my only credit card - if I ever want to buy more stuff from Amazon.

But will I give Amazon my custom? 

I dislike their business practices, and they've let me down in the past. 

The only regular purchases I've ever made with Amazon have been mp3 music tracks, up to a dozen at a time, but often only two or three. And only now and then. The purchase process was once slick and easy. But for a long time Amazon has clearly wanted me to switch to their premium music-streaming service, and not to buy mp3 music tracks in irregular dribs and drabs, to download and keep as part of a personal music collection on 'physical' storage media. They've wanted me to become subscription-dependent, and give them a constant revenue stream regardless of my actual needs. 

I have stubbornly resisted the pressure to comply. I have put up with a purchasing process that has become ever more difficult to deal with. But at least I have eventually got Amazon to accept my order, so that the music files can be downloaded to my phone, going into a file on the SD card, from which I can copy them elsewhere. And back them up, so that I will never lose them.

Now even that has become impossible. 

I bought eight tracks from Amazon three days ago at a cost of £7.84. As usual, the whole selection and purchasing process was a test of patience and perseverance. Eventually I began my downloads. That at least seemed to go smoothly. But then I couldn't find those eight music files in the place they have usually ended up. I searched for them, diligently. But no joy. No trace of them on my phone! And guess what, they couldn't be downloaded again. At least, not without re-purchasing them. And I wasn't keen to try that, in case I got another download-fail. 

And yet I found that those eight tracks could be played offline on my phone, using the Amazon Music app. I'm guessing that purchased-and-downloaded mp3 files no longer go to one's phone ordinary storage, but are instead locked inside the app. And can't be moved around, nor played by another app. Which is highly inconvenient. I want to use my regular music-playing app for everything. I don't want a separate Amazon music player as well. 

It's obviously just a way of forcing me to maintain an Amazon account, for if I close my account, I can't access that Amazon Music app, and the music locked to it becomes unplayable. 

My music collection - as it presently stands - is big enough and complete enough. There's very little I still hanker after. I might be able to fill gaps by ripping the soundtrack off YouTube music videos, although maybe that's no longer possible either. There remains iTunes. Well, we'll see. But whatever I do in the future musicwise, Amazon are not going to be part of it. Effectively they've filched £7.84 from my purse. It's too little to make a fuss about, but it annoys me intensely. 

But I have power and choice! 

I've now closed my Amazon account, and uninstalled the Amazon Shopping and Amazon Music apps from my phone. There are plenty of other places to shop online. I'll help them out instead.

An over-reaction? Probably. But I am very irritated, and this latest straw has broken the camel's back. 

What about Amazon's great prices and offers? And their famed delivery? Ha, I just don't care. Cutting the connection isn't going to make the slightest difference to my day-to-day life. And I feel I've struck a blow for the put-upon consumer.

Really? You can live without Amazon? Yes, with glee. Watch me do it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

An even better way

A few posts back I was discussing how to fix Lili's lens cap on more securely, but without making it difficult to take a spontaneous photo, and without making physical alterations to the cap or any other part of my Leica camera. I carried out various experiments, and came up with a wide elastic band to fit over the lens cap. 

This, by the way, may all seem trivial. But it's a bigger deal than you might think. The errant lens cap in question has to protect some very fancy and expensive glass from accidental damage and whatever the environment or weather may fling at my camera. The lens accounts for most of its still-considerable value. So keeping the lens cap in position when not shooting is very important.

Some professionals swear by having no lens cap at all. That way the lens is always exposed and ready for a picture. That does work, if one ports around a proper camera bag with special separate compartments for the camera and other items, so that nothing comes into contact with anything else, and nothing will touch the unprotected front element of the camera lens. 

Even so, one must be prepared to clean that front element often, as, if left capless, it will quickly accumulate dust, miscellaneous detritus, and accidental finger-marks. But cleaning, unless very carefully done, risks micro-abrasion of the coating on the front element. It's definitely best to clean only sparingly, which inevitably means having a lens cap in place most of the time - and one that won't accidentally fall off if lightly brushed or touched.

One could of course screw on a filter as a protective measure, but that's an extra layer of glass, and unless the filter is optically superb the quality of the pictures taken might suffer. And while glass can fend off rain and smears, it's no defence against hard knocks. 

Lili's design means I can't substitute a normal lens cap, nor use any filters. Come what may, I have to use the special stout rubber cap that came with the camera, which is an integral part of its ruggedising. But that rubber cap, heftier than ordinary caps, comes off very easily. It's tethered by a cord to the camera, so it can't become lost, but I can't rely on the cap remaining in place for very long when out and about. I don't use a camera bag, so a lens cap is vital in all circumstances where something hard, rough or sharp could bang into the lens, or where sea spray, rain, sand, dust, or anything else that blows about might be encountered. So, in between shooting sessions, I want that cap to stay put. 

Well, that wide elastic band did the job, but it wasn't in the least elegant. Something thinner would look nicer. I rummaged again through Mum's sewing stuff, and this time found a length of round-section elastic that might be the answer. I cut it to the right length, and tied a knot in it so that when in place it would be under some tension and hold the cap on firmly. I secured the knot so that it wouldn't slip with needle and thread, much as you might whip the end of a rope on a boat.

The result is, I think, a bit easier on the eye than that wide band:

As with the wide band, if I see a picture to take, I just pull this much thinner band sideways off the camera, and knock the lens cap away. An almost instant process. The band ends up hanging from the neck-strap, and stays there until that particular photo session ends. 

It still looks a bit odd, and I'm sure Leica will be appalled at such a styling transgression, even on a discontinued camera. Well, they should have designed a better cap in the first place. I've only made the thing fit for purpose. 

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Social outcast? Or just a very sensible person?

Dear me, I am so tired of constant references to 'social media', and being asked to give a 'like' to, or 'follow', some person or company that I fleetingly engage with. 

It's a plague. Why should I share my approval of a service provided? Or fill in their tedious online customer-satisfaction survey? They got paid. That's enough. I'm not going to give them any more of my attention. Nor inflict them on others. If I especially enjoyed the experience, then I'll be back. Otherwise, leave me alone. 

Nowadays the commercial world seems to be organised on the basis that almost everyone is on one social media platform or another, and is eager to be contacted, and will share stuff. It's not a mistaken assumption. It is, after all, a basic human wish to be part of one or more social groups, and to interact. Few are outright hermits. Many do like passing on good reports, especially if there's a reward. 

I suppose that makes me a social outcast. I shun social media. I don't want to be on any social media platform. I don't need to belong to anything. I particularly dislike adding extra value to a commercial company's sale: made to act as a channel for more business. I want to stand back from such complicity. In fact, it would give me the greatest pleasure to tell any company seeking an online endorsement that I can't do it, not being on - say - FaceBook. Or just to say 'no' to any request to rate them on Google - which comes up every day, and has (as you will guess) set me off.  

I do use the Internet, but only for information, and - occasionally - to buy things I want. It's not my main source of entertainment, nor is it a substitute for real face-to-face friendships. As for 'keeping in touch', ordinary emails and texts work fine. Just as they always did. If anybody can't be bothered to contact me because I'm not in their FaceBook or What'sApp group, then, to be honest, I don't care: they won't be the kind of friend I value.    

I don't count this blog as a 'social medium'. Nor my Flickr site. Blogger and Flickr are merely my long-running personal platforms for essays and photographs of my own authorship - a way of getting creative work out there on a non-commercial basis - and they are not intended to promote anything, nor provoke comments, nor help me keep in touch with anyone - although they do incidentally generate responses from time to time, usually welcome. Both serve a secondary purpose, enabling people who know me - but who don't necessarily wish to get in touch - to follow my daily life. Or at least edited highlights from it. But I don't use Blogger and Flickr to contact strangers, nor to be part of a trend, nor to keep up with some new fashion. I don't need to feel 'involved'. 

I would never turn to social media as my main way of finding out what's going on, or help me make important decisions. I'd make a considered assessment from proper sources I might reasonably trust. And yet most people do interact with social media. They do it every day and do it a lot, and seem to like being alerted to incoming messages and responses, and video clips to watch, and special offers. I have to assume they enjoy that interaction and are not willing to forego it, despite all the reports of mood damage, mental health dangers, inducements to gamble, pressure to take out expensive loans, or urgings to make dodgy investments. 

It's an addiction, like cigarette-smoking used to be. And like cigarettes, people know the risks but can't leave it alone. Getting one's phone out and scrolling through the latest stuff on the screen has long been a socially-acceptable thing to do, almost anywhere, in company or alone. I remember being told ten or twelve years ago that 'you're never alone with a phone'. Even more true now. Indeed, it would be entirely possible to live in a solitary world in which social media supplied all the human contact. As was the case for many during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. Those lockdowns will have done much to reinforce most people's reliance on social media. 

And of course such reliance is wonderful news for the owners of these platforms. What a money-spinner for them, to have billions of people hooked and inevitably seeing the ads thrust at them. 

Well, the clock can't be turned back. I must seem an increasingly odd figure, staying out of it. And yet at the same time I feel happier and happier as time goes on. Yes, I may miss out on seeing some daft video clip, and hearing about the latest style sensation. But I won't be upset by unfounded rumours and personal attacks, nor fed political falsehoods, nor become a potential target for some clever romance fraud. In a nutshell, I am avoiding all the social control and manipulation that social media addicts have to contend with. And it's good to snap my fingers, and live my life on my own terms, uncaring about whether I'm on-trend or not. 

What about my favourite websites - the ones to do with photography for example - which I might visit at least once daily, maybe oftener? Well, they function for me as online magazines, and provide interesting reading matter to peruse, as I would a printed publication. And like a printed publication, I don't interact with them. I don't post comments. In the past - ten years ago maybe - I might have been tempted to, but such exchanges usually degenerated into rudeness. Somebody always pounced upon my contribution, to prove I was talking nonsense. Or the tone was polite but dismissive. These forums were (and still are) dominated by opinionated men, and no woman is going to be taken seriously. Why join the fray and get bruised? It makes no sense.

And that, I suppose, is the bottom line for me, where social media is concerned. Join in, and inevitably somebody will say something unkind; or a criminal will spot me, and try to groom me for some sting. For these reasons alone, I'm well content to keep away. 

Saturday, 12 February 2022

In the Lotus position

Sue (one of my local friends) and her husband recently bought a Lotus sports car to add to their fun-car stable - it follows their purchase of that 1970s toy racer, the Fiat X1-9, Anyway, after our usual Friday-morning pilates, she drove herself to our lunchtime countryside venue at The Cock in Wivelsfield Green, parking nearby. Meal over, she asked me if I'd like a quick spin. Oh, yes please! 

Jo and Valerie were content to chat in the pub while I had my ride. I waited in front of the pub. Sue soon roared up and invited me aboard.

I wasn't quite sure which Lotus this was - the Evora? - but it was yellow-green and sporty. The hard top had been taken off. So our spin together would be full of fresh air and wild hair. 

Sue explained that getting in or out was difficult with the roof in place. Well, it wasn't easy even with it off, as the floor pan was so close to the road, and there weren't more than a couple of places to grasp the car with while I flopped in. And how was I going to get out? Never mind! At least there was lots of foot-room. The seats were, however, decidedly firm compared to Fiona's sumptuous versions. And lateral room was tight: we had to sit very close together. I felt somewhat wedged in. On the other hand, this was probably a Good Thing for rapid progress along winding roads and around sharp bends!

Off we went. Even keeping to the village speed limit, it seemed fast! For one thing, being so close to the road surface made the world gallop towards us. So very different from the elevated driving position I have in Fiona.

Sue was obviously enjoying herself immensely. It was definitely a car to make you smile.

And out on the open road, our faces said it all.

We weren't really going that fast. 55mph at most. But the big engine behind us was loud and throaty, and the rush of the wind suggested twice the speed. And the car handled so well. 

Back at the pub, my exhilaration was such that I'd quite forgotten what a challenge it might be to get out onto the pavement. Baling out sideways wasn't an option as it might be with, say, a gull-winged DeLorean. No, I heaved myself up, plonking my bottom onto the wide side-ledge to my left, and from there pulled and swivelled myself into a standing position. No doubt it would, with practice, be easy to pour oneself in and out of this car in a single graceful movement. 

After I waved Sue goodbye, I pondered whether I would ever buy a car like this. The answer was a predictable no. I just liked big, spacious, practical cars that had plenty of comfort. Even if I gave up caravanning, I'd still want such a car. I put carrying things and being cossetted well above being thrilled. 

But that's just my personal preference! I can still see that a car like this Lotus makes fast and skilful leisure-driving an addictive experience not to be sniffed at. 

Although he's driving an older Lotus, the chap in the video embedded in this online review for AutoExpress really puts over what owning a sports car is all about, and why it gives him so much pleasure. Recommended viewing. Here's the link:

(My shots were taken with Prudence, my phone, and not with Lili my Leica camera. I think Prudence did a pretty good job)

Thursday, 10 February 2022

A trip to London 4 - ruthless kings, a queen with talons, and centaurs who couldn't handle their booze

I'm still at the British Museum, making a careful tour of the ancient-world exhibits. I'm really impressed by the sophistication of people living in the middle east four or five thousand years ago. These certainly weren't perfect societies, and from our point of view they were woefully lacking in the tech and healthcare departments. But their societies worked, and endured, and seemed reassuringly permanent - things we can't say of our own. 

On the other hand, of course, they were conservative and resistant to change; they avoided surprises; and made no important voyages of discovery in case they strayed into forbidden or sacred parts beyond the horizon that might be the exclusive preserve of their gods. I don't think, for instance, that Ancient Egypt was aware of contemporary Chinese civilisation, nor would have made the effort to get in touch. Hemmed in by deserts and seas and superstition, they kept to their established territories, and fought savage local wars to hold onto what they had. It was never possible to take peace for granted. 

It's the same today in that area. I rather think that the geographical facts of life in the middle east, and how those affected the constant jostling for good land, gold and influence, shaped the minds and policies of the ancients, and their descendants are the same today: saddled with attitudes built up over millennia, and too deep-rooted for any quick diplomatic fix brokered by outsiders. 

So. I'm in a huge gallery on the ground floor of the Museum. I'm about to leave the Egyptian part behind and enter the fierce world of the Assyrians. 

Immediately I notice a big difference. Gone are the serene sitting pharaohs, smooth-faced and calm. The Assyrians valued strength and the coercive power of fear. It is an aggressively masculine society, stern and bearded. Its imagery is designed to impress, and to convey an implacable threat of violence. Hence gateways featuring snarling lions with teeth and claws, and frighteningly powerful musculature.  

The same sort of thing would be seen much, much later on the prows of Viking longships - all societies that have a use for intimidation resort to images that make weaker people despair. 

The Assyrians often put a human head on these giant carved beasts. Heads with blank eyes and disdainful lips, with the wings of eagles added to a bull's or lion's body. More gateway frighteners:

Truly fearsome feet. But that was the intention, to instil awe and compliance, to cow foreign visitors and locals alike. Assyrian kings saw to it that, after each successful military campaign, all prisoners taken were cruelly mutilated. Or just butchered in public. All done to send a clear message to the conquered survivors. And indeed to anyone else in the region who had notions of defying the Assyrian empire in any way. 

Sounds familiar? Where warfare is concerned, the lesson of history is that savagery gets results. It's about the only lesson aggressors take note of. They ignore the other lessons that tell them the party doesn't go on forever, and that all regimes burn themselves out sooner or later, usually faltering when the ruling family loses its grip, or fails to replicate itself. George Harrison was so right when he sang All Things Must Pass.

Here's an Assyrian king:

This king - I think it's an actual person, rather than the depiction of a god - has an unsmiling face, pitiless eyes, and holds a flail to lash his opponents with. He also has two murderous daggers tucked in his waistband. On his arms, metal bands that he probably couldn't remove. (That device on his left wrist looks like a watch, doesn't it? But of course it isn't) The sculptor has emphasised his arm muscles. This is a physically strong king you really don't want to mess with. 

I'd had enough of Assyria. I wanted to see something less searing, less born of the hot desert. So I started to make my way to the Ancient Greek section. On the way, I saw something that wasn't Egyptian, but nor was it like the Assyrian exhibits. It was a clay tablet, not very large, showing - in high relief - a woman with wings and bird's feet. The Museum called her The Queen of the Night. She was in the company of owls.

Dating from about 1,775 BC, she predated the Assyrian empire. Although clearly a goddess (as she held the godly rod-and-ring in both hands), it seemed that nobody knew who she was meant to be. Her sensual nudity suggested Ishtar, the goddess of love and war; but there were reasons to prefer Ishtar's sister, Ereshkigal, who ruled the Underworld. There was a legend that Ishtar went to see her sister, and rather unwisely surrendered her clothes and protective possessions item by item as she penetrated deeper into Ereshkigal's domain, until she was naked and at her sister's mercy. (They weren't friendly) So this could be Ereshkigal, holding both her own and her sister's rod-and-ring symbols. Well, maybe.

It was thought that originally this tablet would be part of a shrine to whichever goddess it is. Being made of clay, and not of some precious metal, it was considered of no value when the shrine was later plundered or fell into decay, and so The Queen of Night survived, broken into three pieces, but largely intact. At some point in modern times she was found, and offered to the big museums. But there was a problem with her provenance. Where was she found? Who by? In what archaeological context? All these were unknown. And there were stylistic issues. Essentially she was a one-off with very little to compare her with. Was she a faked-up pastiche or the real thing? The museums turned her down. She ended up in the hands of a dealer. Then the British Museum had a change of heart and bought her. Her great antiquity has since been proved, but her identity remains an open question. The Museum currently favours Ereshkigal.

Close analysis has shown that originally she was painted red, picked out with gold, against a black background. So (according to Wikipedia) she could have looked a bit like this: 

Although I like it, this may be rather too lurid. The WorldHistory website has a more toned-down version, perhaps too brown:

Pretty striking, all the same. The bird's feet and talons echo the owls', except that the talons are extra-vicious. They look rather odd in combination with her very female human body, but if this was in fact the Babylonian goddess of love and war, you'd expect some indication that she could be sharp and wounding as well as soft and yielding.  

Well, I was impressed. Considering the second-class status of Babylonian women - contemporary laws meted out harsh treatment to erring women, and clearly they were little more than pawns in a power game conducted by men - here is a lady to respect! 

Perhaps women especially venerated her, and would ask her to avenge the wrongs and hurts done to them by the cruel men in control of their lives. They'd wish her to appear before the man they hated, fiery red - and naked to tempt him - but with talons out, ready to tear and rend, and to teach that man a lesson. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind invoking her - or being her - for an hour or two, just to wreak a similar revenge upon a small number of men (and one or two women, come to that) who messed me up in the past. What a wheeze that would be! Suddenly popping up, and giving them the fright of their lives. 

[Enter an Arrogant Person, once Lucy's oppressor. Lucy now appears before them as an avenging goddess]

Lucy: I am The Queen of the Night. You have wronged me and offended me. Make yourself ready for death.
Arrogant Person: No! No! No! I will do anything you ask! 
Lucy [Spreading her wings, flexing her talons, and looking redder than ever]: It is too late. I accept no appeal, nor any apology. Now you must die. I consign you to the Underworld forever.

Would I really do it? No, of course not. 

Well, not much! I think it would be quite enough to give them a heart-stopping moment. Then let them reflect on their misdeeds, while I flapped off with my owls.

Tired of vengeful ways of thinking, I entered the Greek galleries with a deep sense of relief. The Greeks had their gods too, but somehow they all had a very human aspect. Fickle, capricious and occasionally jealous they might be, they were nevertheless only larger-than-life versions of ordinary people, and you could know them and relate to them. And their portrayal was through ordinary human bodies, albeit every one a superb physical specimen. No strange frightening beasts with demonic wings and claws here. All right, I admit there were graceful horses with wings; and creatures called centaurs that were half horse, half man; and woodland nymphs and satyrs; and Greek mythology had serpents galore, and ladies with snakes for hair, and one-eyed giants, and multi-headed dogs. And any lusty swan or ram could be Zeus himself. But hey, nothing too abnormal.

And the sculpture - compared to the stiff and static Egyptian and Assyrian output - was fluid and realistic and almost alive. 

This was an ante-chamber. Through that distant door was a vast room containing the friezes taken from the Parthenon - the so-called 'Elgin Marbles'. Small risk of catching Covid there, I thought.

I have to say that, although magnificent, a lot of the carvings were somewhat weather-worn. I did wonder why we were still hanging onto them. Would it really do our national culture harm if we returned them to Greece, and just kept 3D-prints as faithful copies? Here's a selection anyway:

It was admirable how well the Greek sculptors had put lifelike movement into torsos and limbs and swirling clothing. All the carvings, whether human, half-human or all-animal, seemed to be in motion. Or only temporarily at rest, poised for fresh movement. 

No wonder the Renaissance sculptors were so inspired by Greek models. 

There was a story about centaurs being invited to a Lapith wedding-party. The Lapiths came from the Greek region called Thessaly: they were experts with horses. Centaurs and Lapiths shared a common human ancestry, but centaurs were new, the result of a Lapith man mating with mares, and were half man, half horse, with their human side only just more dominant than their wild-horse side. Anyway, centaurs never usually drank wine, and, when given some at this wedding-party, they got tipsy and their lustful and unruly horsy side took over. The Lapiths had to fight them to regain control, with some deaths ensuing. The centaurs were banished from Thessaly. Although easily defeated on that first occasion, in subsequent encounters things did not go so well for the Lapiths. I was struck by a group of stone panels that showed a centaur and a Lapith warrior wrestling, with the centaur mostly getting the upper hand.

Extraordinary artistic skill. In my Flickr album for 'British Museum' I include the captions which explain the carvings in full.

It was time to go. I had a long walk ahead of me, back to London Victoria station, and I wanted to go via Theatre-land, the Victoria Embankment, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The next post in this series.