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Watling Street

John Higgs

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The chalk of the white cliffs of Dover were originally under the sea. Single celled algae coccolithophoreslived in warm, shallow waters. The algae formed tiny round calcium carbonate shields for protection. When they died the shields floated to the bottom, and eventually compressed into chalk. The amount of time this took is hard to grasp. Each organism was only a few thousandths of a millimeterin size. To form a single centimeter of chalk took a thousand years and billions of algae. A meter 100,000 years.

Nationalism is a scary drug. A sense of pride is impt, but it needs to come from your own actions and achievements. To feel good about yourself bc some long-dead people did extraordinary things is to miss the point rather badly.

Betteridge's Law - if a headline asks a Q, the answer is always 'No'. (Although the maxim had been well established long before he wrote about it)

The only ancient culture we know that had a word for 'blue' were the Egyptians. The ancient Greeks didn't, hence Homer's 'wine-dark sea'. Some languages still don't have a word.

A language is just an operating system for the brain. It's not just a means of communication - without it we coyldn't catalog or understand what we see. The English language gave birth to the idea of 'England'. The word 'English' is older than the word 'England'.

Other languages have words for concepts that English lacks. The Welsh word cwtch translates as both a small cubbyhole and a cuddle. It means an embrace that makes you feel safe at home. There is no English term for the French jouissance which means a great pleasure in succeedeing at an intellectual game which itself is meaningless (like getting a greenlight on Fark). Finnishhas susi, which refers to a stoic ability to endure and overcome difficulty.

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German has Mahnmal which means a monumant to national shame. Lacking this, English speakers have trouble discussing aspects of their history such as the slave trade, or Victorian prisons and punishments.

But English is extremely practical. It can describe concepts and things no other language can. What other language has a specific verb for tricking people into watching a Rick Astley video?

We have stopped pretending to be a Christian country. We are not a Christian counntry. We are a country that happens to have some Christians in it. Britain has shrugged off Christianity, just as it shrugged off the French language in the Middle Ages.

Chrstianity has remained largely static, while science, culture and law continue to evolve and expand. St Paul's Cathedral dominated medieval London, but today is overshadowed by secular buildings. In the same way, other systems of thought have grown to overshadow religious thinking.

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Anthony Gormley's Transport memorialising Thomas Becket. It hangs above the space where B's tomb was originally. Look closely and you see it is just a shape suggested by linked nails. The nails come from the lead roof tiles from the bombed cathedral, so they are part of the fabric of the building.

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Therapeutic schizophrenia: people hear voices, and in West they are usually perceived as hostile, someone trapped inside your head. But some people are able to welcome the visitor like a child's imaginary friend.

The memory of the average person lasts until their grandchildren die. (But digital life will change this!)

In 1107 the Bishop of Winchester was given sole authority over the Liberty of the Clink (now mostly Southwark). This area was then long-established brothels, which were regulated in 1161 through a series of ordinances licensing the prostitutes. It was signed by Thomas Becket. Whores licensed by a saint. Becasue of their licence from the bishop, they were known as 'Winchester geese'.

John Overs a notorious scrooge who faked his own death in the expectation that his servants would fast during the mourning period and save him the expense of feeding them. Instead they broke into the wine cellars and had a great party. When he rose from his 'deathbed' to protest, they thought he was an evil spirit and clubbed him to death. His daughter inherited his wealth, and used it to found a nunnery.

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The old Celtic calendar comes from a time when life didn't change rapidly. It divides time up into six week chunks, each separated by a party, which is an agreeable way to look at life. It tells you that things more than six weeks away aren't worth worrying about yet. It puts the focus on the patterns and rhythms of life, rather than the passing of years.

In 2004 Banksy painted two life-sized policemen kissing on the wall outside the Prince Albert pub in Brighton. Not everyone liked it. In 2006 two men drove up in a plumber's van and covered it in black paint. They were caught on CCTV and prosecuted, but the painting was destroyed. But the barman from the pub did an impressive job of repainting it, and the painting was protected by a sheet of perspex. In 2014 the painting was sold. A specialist restorer removed the paint from the wall and applied it to a canvas. It was then sold at auction in Miami for over half a million dollars. A painting copied by the pub barman. A replica was painted in the same plac eon the pub wall and another sheet of perspex put over it. And that is what the tour parties visit nd photograph today.

Visitors to London often complain about how unsmiling the inhabitants are, but Londoners have learned that a smiling face usually wants money.

Metal comes from the excluded part of British society. Music intended to empower the powerless. So it created its own labels, clubs, mags and festivals.

Explains Brexit in terms of people who had been left behind by the new economy. When you're watching TV and don't like program, you change the channel. You don't know what's on the other side, you just don't want what you're seeing.

As WW2 became imminent, British Govt Code and Cypher School urgently needed somewhere anonymous to work and live - close to London but not a traget for Nazi bombers. Found Bletchley Park. The head of MI6, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, feared that govt bureaucracy would move too slowly, so he bought it himself. In the 50's it became surplus, but when the govt went to sell it, they found they had never owned it. Still part of the (late) Admiral's estate. It was eventually deeded to a trust to restore and preserve the history.

Since 1066, no English family has sat on the English throne. After the French Normans and Plantagenets came the Welsh Tudors, the Scottish Stuarts, the Dutch Willaim of Orange and then the German Hanovers and Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. (Although the latter proclaimed themselves English in 1914 and took the name Windsor).

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