Museums: Responsibilities, Ethics and Education

In amongst the sailing boats, skeletons, swords and other sea faring ephemera, that form the current exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum (NMMC), are three or four small, easily overlooked boards which pose some very interesting questions about how we view the world and the academic processes that document and display the animals, plants and objects within it.

How we name things tends to influence how we think about them subsequently.

Therefore, it’s important that we trust the people who name things and the ways and means by which they come to their conclusions.

Consequently, it’s important that museums and scientists are true to processes of academic rigour and that facts are checked and re-checked before opinion is delivered. By this means, such institutions acquire trusted status. Following on from this, when museums then take exhibits and put them on public display, the same objectivity needs to be applied.

For the NMMC, this is interesting, as its current blockbuster exhibition, Monsters of the Deep, includes a big section on Cryptozoology, a pseudo-science which seeks to use documented historical folklore as evidence for the existence of cryptids such as the Loch Ness monster.  

In fairness to the NMMC, this part of the exhibition sits next to a ‘counterbalancing’ area devoted to the means of scientific research. I’m sure kids loved the thought of cryptids on the loose in the ocean, but does the inclusion and prominence given to Cryptozoology in this exhibition give it a legitimacy over and above the accepted methods of scientific research backed by direct observation and data recording?

If you were curating objects for a museum, what would you choose and how would you make decisions about what to include?  Ultimately, wherever there is choice, there is the risk of bias or lack of objectivity.

Add to this, other issues respecting collections which contain objects from other parts of the world and the ethics of retaining or displaying these items. 

Clearly, collecting, curating and exhibiting is a minefield.

The NMMC responds to these issues by concluding that museums are not neutral spaces and that their role is to provoke thought and debate.

I think it’s been successful.

Fascinating.

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Monsters of the Deep

Today we spent an instructive afternoon in Falmouth’s maritime museum.  Long a favourite with us, the museum is home to the quirky, odd and sometimes downright potty, things to do with seafaring matters.

Standing exhibitions take care of things like the pilchard fishing industry, shipping agents in Falmouth and Captain John Bull’s role in seeing off the dastardly Frenchies, but there’s always one big new exhibition every few months.  

Currently, this is Monsters of the Deep, which assembles a wide collection of ancient and modern objects in its quest to tell the story of man’s developing understanding of the deep areas of the ocean.

This necessarily takes in creatures that definitely didn’t live there (mermaids), creatures that do live there (Gulper eels) and creatures that might live there.

The Victorian’s were the first to really try and get a good grip on the science with the Royal Navy’s 1872 Challenger expedition.  This expedition set out to look systematically at a wide variety of issues connected with sea life and the oceans. Data about ocean temperatures, geology, depths, animal species and much more was collected from around the globe and the results of this ambitious scientific endeavour data became the foundation of modern oceanography.

A reasonable portion of the exhibition is given over to cryptozoology and the work of Bernard Heuvelmans.  With 95% of the deep ocean areas unexplored, its anybody’s guess what’s down there, but whether Heuvelmans was working on the right lines or not time will tell.  

Use(less)/ful fact of the day

Some squid varieties grow up to 20m long and have eyes that are 11 inches across.

Top tip of the day

Don’t poke about in the darker regions of the Mariana Trench.

Verdict?

Worth a look. You’re guaranteed to learn something (unless you just head to the cafe or the gift shop).

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Henry V


Randomly selecting things to read, sometimes comes up trumps.  This week, my random pick was Shakespeare’s great history play, Henry V.  

The events leading up to the battle of Agincourt, the battle itself and the ensuing peace process following the French defeat form the backdrop for this epic drama.

The dramatis personae that populate this medieval world, are a diverse group.

The play gives us a cross section of English society from the highest to the lowest. There are English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish soldiers in the English army. The French are represented by their nobles and courtiers who are attendant on the King of France, Charles VI.

As these characters interact, their prejudices, motivations, thoughts, plots and relationships are revealed.

At the centre is King Hal, a wild young man morphed into a religious, articulate and steely king, whose desire to claim France is the initial lever for action. When his claims are rejected by the French king and his son, the Dauphin sends an insulting gift of tennis balls as an accompaniment to the rejection, Henry takes the decision to raise an army and to claim his perceived birthright in person.

These events tell us a lot about Henry, as king. He’s ambitious and wants his claims to be taken seriously. He has pursued peaceful means to gain his ends as first priority, but when the French are dismissive and disrespectful, he acts decisively and courageously. He balances up the risk and rewards of possible actions.  

Other aspects of his character are highlighted when, early in the play, he talks to Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey (English nobles who have been bribed by the French to kill Henry before he leaves England) about the case of a drunken soldier who has spoken against him. Whilst the treacherous nobles advocate harshness, Henry speaks of mercy. Something which he cannot then apply to the trio when their plot is unfolded.

With the exception of the plotters, Henry is surrounded by a supportive group of nobility. The French, too, are cohesive in that they believe that they can easily beat the English, but the English land in France and encouraged by their orator King, successfully attack Harfleur:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit

To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!

Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,

Have in these parts from morn till even fought

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.

Be copy now to men of grosser blood,

And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,

Whose limbs were made in England, show us here

The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

As Henry’s army marches across France, disease takes its toll and many of his soldiers die.  He takes the difficult decision to fight with tired, sick men rather than defer the engagement and lose the initiative.

By this time, the French have organised numerically superior forces (five times the English numbers) and confidently expect to smash the English. On the eve of the battle, they are impatient for daylight so that the fight can begin.  

Overnight, the English remain reserved and, in the light of the odds against them, resigned to what they must do.  Henry notes the mood of his troops, by walking amongst them anonymously.   As the prime architect of their fate, he must feel a huge responsibility for his army’s jeopardy.

But this is a king, who leads from the front and he rouses their spirits with an amazing call to arms speech.

The battle begins at first light on St Crispin’s Day. The events of the battle are reported back between the characters and the day ends with an incredible victory for the English. Whilst there are English losses, notably York and Suffolk, these are small compared to the decimation of the French, who lose many from the noble houses of France.  

The English take so many prisoners that there is a risk that his army could be overthrown if the prisoners can organise themselves, so he issues an order that all French prisoners should be killed. A controversial battlefield decision in a life or death moment.

The play ends with peace negotiations and the betrothal of Henry and Katherine, the French king’s daughter.

Verdict?
Scores 10 / 10.  Needs to be read multiple times to get the best out of it, probably with a GCSE study guide open as an accompaniment.

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Meal with a View

On Monday evening, we took out a mortgage and sat down to dinner at Michael Caines’ new restaurant and bar at The Cove in Maenporth, which opened just before the UK lockdown began in March.

There’s been a restaurant here for a long time and we’ve either stared it it from the fab beach, which is just across the road or we’ve watched it sail by the car windows as we’ve driven past, but for some reason, we’ve never crossed it’s threshold until now. Such is the pulling power of a celebrity chef.

Unlike Outlaw’s Fish KitchenThe Cove has parking next to the door, which means that hiking boots are not obligatory and you can wear high heels.  A point that was not lost on our party.

The restaurant sits slightly higher up than the beach, so you get a great view out to sea and across to St Anthony’s Head lighthouse which makes it a lovely spot to eat as the sun goes down.  There’s always a lot of shipping about, so if your dinner companions prove boring, you can always fire up marinetraffic.com and identify the tankers.

We ate quite early for us (6.45pm), but the place was reasonably full and by the time we left, it was at capacity.

The menu offered a fair spread and I would say, that there would definitely be something for everyone.  We all chose the six course tasting menu at £80 a head, to which we added a glass of champagne from Mr Caines’ own vineyard.

The tasting menu covered all the bases: a gallotine of quail, mushroom risotto, shellfish chowder, char-grilled fillet of Philip Warrens beef, a selection of cheeses, then a white chocolate and raspberry dessert.

This gave the kitchen a great opportunity to show their mettle.  I am not much of a meat eater, but the beef disappeared as easily as the white chocolate dessert and the risotto and chowder were first rate. Top marks also go to the dessert, which was zingy and light. Cleared plates all round.

Verdict?
Expensive, but definitely worth it.  We won’t be driving past in future.

Editor’s Note
Thank you to Visit Cornwall for their picture of Maenporth beach. I forgot to take a photo when we visited.

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The Best Chips, Ever

 

D8413E5F-31CC-4BD5-8CCF-69E7DF175601Someone once said that “when on holiday, money is an abstract concept” and consequently, you spend it like its going out of fashion.  Equally, there’s another principle that goes along the lines of “you get what you pay for”.

We’ve tested both concepts to the limit, by eating in two amazing restaurants in the last couple of days.

Yesterday, we booked lunch at Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, in Port Isaac.

As we’re on holiday, nobody bothered to check about car parking arrangements in this tiny, beautiful little place and so no one was prepared for a long, very steep downhill walk from the main village car park to the restaurant.

Add in a rainstorm and no mobile phone service to give us directions and the trip started to take on different dimensions.  Fortunately, I’d taken an extra pair of shoes suitable for lightweight sightseeing and so my feet were only mildly cut to pieces.  By the time we reached the restaurant, we were soaked, had bleeding feet (me) and were a bit querulous.

The Fish Kitchen sits right on the quayside, so the fish is landed and makes about a 50m journey straight into the restaurant, which dovetails with the Outlaw ethos of quality and sustainability. The building itself is absolutely beautiful, both inside and out, but only seats a small number of diners (further reduced due to current restrictions).

Food wise, the only thing on offer is a six course tasting menu.  Not surprisingly, this is fish based, but if you call in advance, they can do a vegetarian option. We chose to eat both the fish and vegetarian.

And what a meal.

Freshness and quality shone through. Deceptively simple dishes had flavour, texture and were perfectly cooked and presented.

Scallops, Dover sole, lobster scampi in batter, smoked mackerel.  And the most amazing chips – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. The dessert was a baked cheesecake with berries.  Normally, I don’t much care for cheesecake, but there wasn’t a crumb left on the plate, so I think I’ve changed my mind!

Front of house staff were very professional and efficient, but not very warm.  Perhaps that was because of our slightly dishevelled appearance and bleeding feet or because we ordered hot drinks with our meal, being wet and cold, rather than wine. Who knows.

It was worth it.

 

Want to find out more?
Try the Michelin Guide for details.

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Redruth

This gallery contains 4 photos.

The Family Unit (circus) has encamped itself in Redruth, a quiet backwater that was once dominated by tin and copper mining. These industries substantially declined by the end of the 19th Century, as the various ores began to be imported … Continue reading

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Queen Mary Gardens, Falmouth

Slightly gloomy, pre-rain view of the pretty Queen Mary Gardens that sit behind Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth.  Opened in 1912, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Mary, they still look good 108 years later.
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The Gylly Beach Cafe

Four hours in the car, one hour queuing for a coffee in the (no doubt) Covid enriched atmosphere of a dangerously overcrowded service station and half a pound of chocolate later and we are in lovely Cornwall.  

The Family Unit is tired, overworked and desperate for a break, and whilst the pandemic is a terrible thing, a few small upticks of good have come out of this.  Like, reminding yourself that the UK is a fab place to have a holiday. If you think this, you’ll be in good company – according to the Office of National Statistics, overseas residents made 7.8 million visits to the UK in the three months to March 2019 alone.

So, what’s Cornwall got to recommend it apart from beautiful scenery, great beaches, art galleries, the Maritime museum, outdoor activities, surfing, amazing gardens, historical sites…?  

If these don’t do it for you, then how about food? All over Cornwall, you can find great places to eat, with locally sourced produce often high on the menu.

One fortunate survivor of the lockdown is the Gylly Beach Cafe, in Falmouth.  This sits at the entrance to Gyllyngvase Beach with unrivalled sea views.  The clientele are a mixed bunch of beach goers, locals and visitors alike.  Food is fresh, looks and tastes good and is served, with a smile, by the waiting staff.

At lunchtime today, it was packed (in a responsibly socially distanced way).

A great place to drink coffee, eat cake and gaze at the sea.

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Nostromo

66A14124-CB15-4769-B468-CFBD292B3F45If you’re looking for a meaty tome, with a vast army of finely drawn characters, political intrigue, a haul of silver ingots, all topped off with a revolution, then take a look at the magnificent Nostromo.

Written in 1904, and set in the fictional Latin American country of Costaguana, Joseph Conrad pulls off an amazing feat of story telling, developed from the details of a real life case of silver piracy in the Gulf of Mexico.

The book details the story of an arrangement between the government and the Gould family which allows the family to mine silver in, and around, the fictional coastal town of Sulaco.  The presence of the silver affects the town, it’s residents and even the world outside Costaguana.

Nostromo is a key player in the story. He starts out as a penniless Genoan sailor, but his dependability, courage and need for recognition lead him to move both up in the world (“the Capataz”) and down again (as the silver thief).

However, for me, the starring role in the book, is the silver.

Nostromo protects, then ultimately steals it. Gould (the mine administrator) is obsessed by it. Martin Decoud (a foppish, Europhile journalist) uses it as a potential lever for the establishment of a new republic, but then fills his pockets with ingots when he decides to drown himself. Sotillo nearly goes mad dredging the harbour for it and Hernandez dies incidentally, tortured by Sotillo in his search.

The women of the novel are well developed characters , but they are passive as far as the plot is concerned. Mrs Gould has no influence over her husband’s decisions or actions and he seems oblivious to her existence. Antonia Avellenos exhibits ‘advanced ideas’ but remains a nurse to her father.  The old Italian inn keeper’s wife holds no sway over her Republican spouse but her voice echos on in Nostromo’s thoughts after her death.

And what of Costaguana, the fictional country?  The heat, the sea, drawn from life?   

Having spent time in modern day sleepy Mexican towns, watched the sun come up over Cartagena (and much more) I can say hand on heart, he’s nailed it.

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Malice Aforethought

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There’s no time like the present to read the books on your bucket list, right?

Wrong actually, now’s the time to indulge in stuff that makes you happy or keeps you entertained.  I’ve read lots of articles recently that say ‘… read Ulysses…’ Frankly, after three or four abortive attempts on this I would say ‘… don’t read Ulysses…’.

Instead, I’m recommending Frances Iles’ ground breaking Malice Aforethought.

Frances Iles was a pen name of Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893 – 1971), who as Anthony Berkeley churned out a load of detective novels featuring his rather ghastly amateur sleuth, Roger Sheringham. Sheringham always feels like a poor imitation of Dorothy L Sayers’ urbane Lord Peter Wimsey, but the plot lines often have interesting premises; The Silk Stocking Murders (1928) sees a serial killer on the loose (more about this one later) and The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) sees a crime club challenged to present multiple solutions to a single murder.

But in 1931 (as Isles), Berkeley upped his game, improved his clunky syntax and produced a page turning corker in Malice Aforethought. The book was revolutionary, announcing in the first sentence who the murderer was:

It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter.

The reader follows the action from the murderer’s point of view, seeing what he sees and hearing his thoughts.  As Colin Dexter notes ‘…in front of our eyes the ‘detective story’ is metamorphosing into the ‘crime novel’…’

Iles keeps up the pace as he unpacks the killer’s mind and charts his inexorable journey into dark places and, in spite of giving away the identity of the murderer on page one, he still manages to produce a fabulous twist to the tale in the closing pages.

Read it and enjoy.  Ulysses will still be there tomorrow.

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