We were watching Inside The Factory on BBC iPlayer (watching Gregg Wallace amble around a production line is a guilty pleasure). They were explaining the popularity of oysters in Britain in the nineteenth century and their subsequent decline. The event that really sparked that decline was a banquet at Winchester in 1902, where guests became ill with typhoid and four people died, including the Dean of Winchester Cathedral. What really caught my attention was the source of the oysters – Emsworth in Hampshire.
Emsworth is a pretty little town just five minutes up the road from where I work. It’s quite pretty, with a nice harbour and some good walking routes into the nearby countryside. There are also some particularly good pubs and restaurants. This dark past suddenly made sense. One of those pubs, the Blue Bell Inn, teamed up with a Portsmouth brewery, Staggeringly Good, to make an Oyster Stout called Bishop Slayer.
Some of the proceeds from the beer go to project called the Solent Oyster Restoration Project, which is slowly reintroducing oysters to the Solent (as you might guess from the name). Before the early twentieth century oyster scare and more recent pollution, the Solent was europe’s biggest oyster growing region and the aim is to make it so again – with a goal of five million oyster in five years. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject of fish and beer, that has to be a good outcome.
Iggy Pop has recently been presenting a show on BBC Radio 6. He’s actually been doing this for a few months now, but I listen to the radio so little nowadays that I’ve only noticed this week. He’s got a very eclectic taste in music (in a good way) and his shows are well worth listening to. The most recent at time of writing – “Here Come The Germans” – has a great mix of classic krautrock like La Dusseldorf, more recent stuff like Rammstein and older tunes from Bertolt Brecht. There’s even some Wagner in there. They can be found, on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yblbx. He is also soon to deliver the John Peel Lecture
Anyway … I also happened to stumble upon a short piece of writing by Iggy on the importance of Edward Gibbon to his life and outlook. It’s short and pretty succinct, but well worth spending thirty seconds or so reading. The point that particularly resonated with me was number 2:
“I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins – military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial – are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.”
It’s one of the things I enjoy most about history (not just Rome, but it does stand out as shining examples of this), the way one can see the modern world built up on what had been before – slowly adding complexity, correcting the mistakes, often making more mistakes in the process. As well as his show on BBC, Iggy is soon to deliver John Peel Lecture on the concept of free music in a capitalist society. I’m not sure if he’ll take much from Gibbon on that one, but I am sure that it’ll be an interesting talk nonetheless.
I’ll leave this post with his final comment: one that would be a good tagline for a history blog,
“I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world.”
I recently read Science & Islam by Ehsan Masood, designed to accompany a BBC television series, and decided to put out a post on it. To spoil things up front, I found the book disappointing but the topic fascinating so I began writing a huge essay on it. So huge in fact that I’ve decided to split it into a number of posts. This first one will give a general history and my thoughts on the book itself, and it should be followed by a post or two on the science behind all this (something that I think the book struggled to deal with as much as I would have liked).
The Rise of Islam
When the Arab armies came storming out of the desert into the tired Byzantine and Persian Empires, their initially success was astounding. They soon found themselves in control of a vast empire containing a mix of religions and peoples in which arabs and Islam were a minority. This shift from military expansion to administration provided a set of challenges for the Caliphate to deal with – providing food for the population, minting coins, providing a central administration and building new cities and buildings. This began a boom in science and technology that would last for centuries, but it did not start from scratch – those christians, jews and zoroastrians that had populated the land before would lend their talents to this and techniques would be brought in and translated from outside the reaches of the empire. The universal adoption of the arabic language helped this process, providing easy communication between scholars from distant lands.
Continue reading Post 42: Science & Islam