Sunday, 27 February 2011

Old coins and dead Egyptians

It’s a funny old life being a museum curator.  I had a very long day in London the other day, getting up far too early to catch a train to get me to the British Museum for 9am.  The reason for this act of masochism was that I was attending a conference to celebrate the 150th birthday of the department of coins and medals (though I didn’t even get them a card – I’m a terrible guest!)  I have to say that it was worth the effort, with some very good papers on the history of the department and some of the current projects being undertaken in the UK and abroad.  The updates on British projects such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the progress the BM is making on putting more of its collections online were particularly interesting.

One thing that did make me and a few provincial colleagues smile, though, was the way that some of the senior BM curators were criticising the lack of specialist numismatic posts in some museums, and highlighting how important it is that major research projects continue to be carried out.  It seemed to us that that view is slightly out of touch with the reality most museums are facing, when curators of huge collections and entire education and outreach departments are being culled en masse because of government cuts.  The luxury of specialist numismatic curators with the time and resources to carry out personal research projects is long gone, and the BM may do well to reflect how lucky they are to still have that role at all.

Having said that, it was a stimulating discussion, and I returned to Lincoln bursting with enthusiasm and ideas for new ways to get all of the people of Lincolnshire crazy about ancient coins.

While I was at the BM, I took the opportunity to go and see their latest exhibition – ‘Book of the Dead’.  Now, I have to confess that despite being a history buff, the Egyptians have always left me slightly cold – maybe it was the whole brain out of the nose thing when I was a kid?  Anyway, as a fully paid up, card carrying member of the Museums Association, I can get into the BM’s exhibitions for free, and I’m never one to pass up a freebie.

As I went round, I realised that the thoughts going round my head were the same as when I had visited the last few BM blockbuster exhibitions.  The objects are as wonderful as you’d expect them to be, the interpretation is informative and well planned and the dome of the reading room makes for a beautiful setting.  It should combine to make the perfect experience, but somehow it doesn’t.  The popularity of the exhibitions means that the visitor experience is poor.  For me, things like the large crowds in front of every case, being hit in the face by some tourist’s rucksack, having some screaming kid push past you the wrong way, or simply just having to stand and wait as you can’t even ignore a case and move on as the throng have created a bottleneck - all combine to just make me want to get through and out again as quickly as possible – and meaning that I take very little enjoyment or knowledge out of the experience.  I fail to see how anybody else could either.  It’s like an inverse ratio – as popularity increases, enjoyment for the individual visitor decreases.

I think a large part of the problem with this exhibition is that a lot of the objects are papyrus, meaning that you need to be close to them to get any sense of their detail.  The last BM exhibitions I really enjoyed were Hadrian and the Terracotta Warriors, and I think it’s no coincidence that they contained larger objects that could be appreciated from a distance.  If I could find a time to see this one when it was quiet, I’m sure I’d come away with a far better impression.

I actually went into ‘Book of the Dead’ twice.  My first visit was during lunchtime, but I tried again after the conference before my late train home, at about 7 o’clock in the hope it would be quieter.  It was actually worse – even more visitors and a child with some clacking toy that its parents evidently enjoyed the sound of.

Ultimately it’s hard to see how the BM can change it – getting lots of people to come to an exhibition is a sign of success, and lord knows the heritage industry in England at the moment needs every good bit of press it can get.  I just hope the hoards of other tourists didn’t feel as disappointed as I did, and will continue to come back again and again – if only they could keep away when I’m there…

Barnet v Lincoln City, 26 February 2011

Venue: Underhill, Barnet
Final score: 4-2

Having won 4 and drawn 1 of their last five away matches, City felt confidence going into this match against bottom club Barnet, on the famous sloping pitch at Underhill.  City have a good record both home and away in recent years against Barnet, but overconfidence is a dangerous thing in football, as today’s result proved.  Despite propping up League 2, the Bees had a sting in their tail.

The Imps kicked off going up the slope, but it was the home side who immediately stamped their intentions on the game, knocking the ball about confidently.  With just 6 minutes on the clock they punished a slow Imps defence, a Marshall corner finding Kabba unmarked and the experienced striker made no mistakes with his header, giving the Bees a 1-0 lead.

City were shellshocked by Barnet’s bright start and could not get their own game going.  City had still barely had a shot when things got worse.  Parkes burst into the box and was upended by Fuseini, the referee not hesitating to give the penalty.  Kabba stepped up to confidently strike home, scoring his second goal of the game on just 14 minutes.

The second goal caused Barnet to take their foot off the gas slightly, and the game turned scrappier.  City managed to create half chances, but still looked a long way from the side that has performed so well of late.

In the 37th minute, the game seemed to have been put well beyond City, as Barnet won a freekick for a foul on Mcleod.  The freekick was dealt with by the City defence, but only as far as Hughes, who curled a shot past the despairing Carson to make it 3-0.  The scoreline was now one that Barnet fans could only have dreamed of, while City fans held their heads in disbelief.

It almost got much worse for the Imps as halftime loomed.  First, McLeod managed to stab wide from mere yards out, then Hughes headed against the post.  It is a sad reflection on City’s play to say that they were glad to get to halftime only three goals down.

Halftime teamtalks are funny things in football.  It must be tough for managers to know whether to cajole their failing players into action, or to scream, shout and throw things.  We’ll never know which approach Steve Tilson took, but he deserves credit for his choice as the Imps returned to the pitch a changed side.

Having stopped an early Barnet attack, Grimes put the ball into the path of Howell, who planted a first time shot past Barnet ‘keeper Cole just two minutes into the second half.  It was only 3-1, but it gave City a lifeline.

The confidence it gave the Imps was tangible, as just three minutes later Facey found Grimes, who turned to fire home to make the score 3-2.  The travelling fans were now in full voice, and a comeback, almost unthinkable at half time, now seemed within reach.

In the 57th minute, the opportunity to complete the comeback was handed to City when Watts was upended in the box following a corner.  Grimes stepped up to take the penalty, but was denied by Cole, the ball hacked behind for a corner.

The let off proved to be a wake-up call for Barnet, and despite City continuing to press, they managed to get the decisive goal on 68 minutes.  Marshall once again skinned Kelly, who had had a poor afternoon, and delivered a cross for McLeod who slammed the ball into the roof of the net from close range.

Despite City’s valiant fightback, the fourth goal killed the game as a contest – the missed penalty being the key moment.  Had that gone in, City may well have gone on to claim all three points, but as it was they returned to Lincolnshire empty handed.

Barnet deserved to get the points for their drive and creativity, and it may prove a vital and morale boosting win for them in their bid to escape the drop.  The Imps’ attempts to get to the 50 point safety mark have been stalled, but will hopefully be back on track at home to Oxford on Tuesday night.

1. Jake Cole
. John Dunleavy
. Joe Devera
. Anwar Uddin
. Jordan Parkes
. Mark Marshall
. Mark Hughes
. Rossi Jarvis
. Sam Deering
. Steve Kabba
. Izale Mcleod
12. Charlie Stimson for Mcleod (85)
. Kwame JJ Adjeman-Pamboe for Deering (90+1)
. Sam Cox
. Liam O'Brien
. Clovis Kamdjo
. Mauro Vilhete
. Tommy Fraser

24. Trevor Carson
. Julian Kelly
. Adam Watts
. Danny Hone
. Stephen Hunt
. Josh O'Keefe
. Luke Howell
. Ali Fuseini
. Gavin McCallum
. Delroy Facey
. Ashley Grimes
7. Mustapha Carayol for O'Keefe (75)
. Ben Hutchinson for Grimes (89)
. Scott Spencer for Facey (90)
. Paul Green
. Jamie Clapham
. Patrick Kanyuka
. Joe Anyon

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Footballer slaps himself – silly?

I came across this great video yesterday.  Watch in wonder as Chilean Under 20 player Bryan Carrasco takes a whack in the face from his opponent’s arm.  Oh, hang on…

Did he really just slap himself in the face?  I think the best bit for me though is that the Ecuadorean player whose arm has just been ‘borrowed’ doesn’t actually seem to even notice…

If the embedded version doesn't work, see it on Youtube here

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Travels with Li Dongni – Forbidden City, Beijing, China (April 2009)

Forbidden to all but 7 million visitors a year...

No trip to China, let alone a trip to Beijing, would be complete without seeing the Forbidden City (or the Palace Museum as it is known in China).  My visit there was part of a larger tour around China in 2009.

On this visit I was fortunate on two counts – firstly that my wife (fiancée as she was then) knows people who work there so we were able to get in for free, and secondly that we missed some of the massive crowds that can plague these iconic attractions.  Unfortunately, the day was rather misty and drizzly, which hampered the taking of too many great photographs but wasn’t enough to ruin the experience.

The Forbidden City is a place of contradictions.  An iconic site, the image and name of which are recognisable across the world, but one which I imagine most visitors don’t really understand much about, and would struggle to name even one of the many Emperors who lived there, or even how old it is.  Maybe it’s unfair to say that of the Chinese visitors (maybe), but for foreign visitors it’s more likely to be true.  Not that I’m saying that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that – I know I’ve been to many heritage sites knowing far less about them than someone else – it’s just that the Forbidden City is so unique, a little extra knowledge goes a long way in appreciating the site.

Because of our fortunate free entry, we actually walked around the moat (that’s the only English word I can think of to describe it) to enter the City from the north (the ‘Gate of Divine Prowess’), rather than from the ‘main’ southern entrance from Tiananmen Square.

Plan courtesy of

Using this entrance meant that we began by exploring the maze (and I don’t use the term lightly) of Imperial palaces and halls, designed for various Emperors, Empresses and vast hordes of concubines and eunuchs.  Most of these buildings are inaccessible, but you can peer inside at some displayed objects, and the interpretation of the history of the major ones is well worth the read.  The main experience in this part of the City, however, is simply to wander around.  To have the feeling that you never know what is round the next corner, to marvel at the tiny architectural details on the buildings and their roofs, to suddenly come across a scholar stone, ancient tree or brightly painted pavilion.  If you have done some reading on the City before visiting, then the little thrill of pleasure when you come across a building with a particular connection to famous figures such as Ci Xi or Qian Long is memorable.

The grand, ceremonial pavilions such as the Hall of Supreme Harmony were therefore the last buildings we visited.  These large, impressive buildings set in larger courtyards are the most iconic buildings on site, and the ones everyone pictures when thinking of the Forbidden City.

The sheer size of the site cannot fail to impress, and you get the feeling that it would take numerous visits to really start to feel you’d explored everywhere, and a lifetime to know every nook and cranny intimately.

The raw statistics of the Forbidden City are quite mind-boggling.  The site covers 178 acres.  It measures 961 metres (3,153 ft) from north to south and 753 metres (2,470 ft) from east to west.  There are 980 surviving buildings containing 8,707 rooms.  Even the positioning, alignment and landscape of the City is planned and of significance.  The City lies in the dead centre of Beijing, aligned north-south.  The southern axis extends through Tiananmen Square, the north axis to the Bell and Drum Towers.  Some have postulated that the northern axis also aligns with Xanadu – the other capital of the Yuan dynasty.  The wall surrounding the City is 7.9m (26 ft) high, and the moat 6m deep and 51m (171 ft) wide.  These impressive defensive walls served a dual purpose – keeping the rest of the world out, and keeping the Emperor in.  Rarely has a royal palace been so like a prison for the monarch living within.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Lincoln City v Chesterfield, 19 February 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Final score: 0-2
I have to confess that there are some clubs in football that I just don’t warm to, and Chesterfield are one of those.  They are a semi-local rival of ours, but it’s more than that – I just have an irrational dislike of them and find them obnoxious and unlovable.  On their trip to Lincoln today though, Chesterfield were flying high and 5 points clear at the top of the league.  Although they’d had a few away draws, giving City a chance of getting something out of the game, this was always going to be a stern test for the Imps.

There had been some player movement in the days before the game, with winger Albert Jarrett going out on loan to Aldershot for a month.  Jarrett has gone from being the Imps’ best player at the start of the season to not being able to get in the side and having the manager question his work rate.  Hopefully the loan will sharpen him up and get him back into form.

Another player departing the Imps is Drewe Broughton, who has joined AFC Wimbledon until the end of the season.  As AFC are currently three points clear at the top of the Blue Square Premier (only one step below League 2), they obviously don’t have a goalscoring problem, and it’s hard to see how Drewe would add anything.

It was a cold day at Sincil Bank, and the rain had been falling, making the surface slippery.  The game began evenly, but it was Chesterfield who fired the first warning shot, with Morris putting a long shot wide.  City seemed unable to keep hold of the ball for more than two passes, and Chesterfield were looking mobile up front

City did manage to create a half chance on 10 minutes, as Facey was slipped through by Howell, and put a good low cross into the area.  No-one was there to capitalize, but it was the first time the City strikers had looked to be on the same wavelength as each other.

Barely seconds later came a blow to the Imps.  Hoyte went down after an innocuous looking clash, and looked in some pain.  Although he was able to hobble of the pitch under his own steam, he was in no state to continue and was replaced by Ali Fuseini.  The change saw Kelly drop back into the right back position and Fuseini move into central midfield.

City started to make their presence felt in the game, and were pressing Chesterfield back, Facey in particular causing problems whenever he got the ball.  A City corner on 15 minutes, however, soon turned into farcical disaster.  The corner was cleared to the halfway line, where City defender Kelly and Chesterfield striker Davies were waiting.  Kelly beat Davies to the ball, and turned to deliver a passback to ‘keeper Carson.  It was a strong pass, and Carson tried to control it with his knees.  Unfortunately his control failed him, and the ball cannoned forwards about 20 yards, where the alert Davies picked up on it.  He rounded Carson, who was outside of his area, and ran the ball into the net as the City goalie sank to his knees in despair.  It was a suicidal piece of play at a time when the Imps had been in the ascendency.

The Imps began to attack again with Fuseini seeing two shots blocked in quick succession and Grimes hooking a shot just wide from inside the box.

The drama unfolded yet again at the other end on 20 minutes, however, as Davies tried to turn past Watts at the edge of the area, only to have the City defender foolishly put his hands on the Chesterfield striker’s shoulders and pull him over.  It was a crazy penalty to give away, and the chance was there for the Spireites to double their lead.  Davies took the spot kick himself, but Carson was in the mood to atone for his earlier error, and made a good save low to his left, emerging with the ball in his gloves.  It was a lifeline for City, the only question was whether they could capitalize.

City managed to have good possession but were struggling to create any real chances, and continued to be prone to giving the ball away far too cheaply. The next real chance again fell to Chesterfield, when on 32 minutes Watts did well to block a shot on the line.  The ball fell to Morris on the edge of the box, who saw his fierce shot well charged down by Hone.  City weren’t in the clear yet though, as Davies was then able to get a header on target, only for it to be saved by a superb fingertip save by Carson.

City did manage to create more half chances as the first half drew to a close, with Grimes shooting just wide from 8 yards out and the keeper claiming well after a corner.

One thing that did characterize the end of the first half was the notable amount of whinging and complaining at the referee coming from the Chesterfield crowd and assistant manager, despite the referee not making any contentious decisions.  Even clear cut fouls were met with howls of derision which were out of place with what had been a fairly contested and clean match.

The second half began with Chesterfield creating a chance in under a minute when Davies dragged a shot wide, and in the 6th minute, when Carson superbly saved from a close range Robertson shot.

The half continued according to a fairly consistent pattern – Chesterfield happy to sit back and wait for City to cheaply give them the ball.  It led to few clear chances being created.

City thought they had clawed their way back into the game on 65 minutes when McCallum maneuvered in the box before finding the back of the net, only to see his celebrations cut short by the linesman’s flag.

Chesterfield won their first corner on 84 minutes, and as the City defense failed to deal with it properly, Holden headed home from 6 yards to put the Spireites 2-0 up and the game beyond any doubt.  The game had nothing else to offer before the final whistle.

City had ultimately been the architects of their own downfall – consistently failing to keep possession and making simple defensive errors.  Chesterfield, for a top of the league side, failed to impress in the manner that Shrewsbury and Bury had previously done at Sincil Bank, and appeared to be a side more suited to thuggery and whinging than slick attacking football.  Ultimately though, it’s the result that counts, and maybe City can learn a lesson from such sides.

24. Trevor Carson
28. Gavin Hoyte
4. Adam Watts
6. Danny Hone
23. Stephen Hunt
14. Josh O'Keefe
15. Luke Howell
16. Julian Kelly
9. Gavin McCallum
18. Delroy Facey
29. Ashley Grimes
31. Ali Fuseini for Hoyte (12)
7. Mustapha Carayol for Howell (72)
27. Ben Hutchinson for McCallum (78)
2. Paul Green
19. Jamie Clapham
39. Scott Spencer
1. Joe Anyon

1. Tommy Lee
32. Dean Holden
16. Ian Breckin
6. Simon Ford
3. Gregor Robertson
25. Drew Talbot
18. Ian Morris
8. Derek Niven
19. Scott Boden
9. Craig Davies
30. Kieran Djilali
10. Danny Whitaker for Ford (28)
14. Jack Lester for Boden (82)
4. Jamie Lowry for Djilali (90+3)
12. Scott Griffiths
21. Jordan Bowery
24. Craig Clay
26. Shane Redmond