London trip and UEA reunion

UEA is the University of East Anglia, I was there between 1968 and 1971, amongst the first intake of undergraduates.  The school of Environmental Science was established the year before so this is its 50th anniversary.  Thus the 7 pm gathering and lecture from senior member of staff (on climate change – the BIG UEA thing of recent decades).

But first – the rest of the day.  In Victoria by 11.30 and tube to Embankment and walk north to The Harp for three halves of beer.  Gloucester Brewery’s Cascade and 2 of Arbor’s Pocket Rocket, a delicious session US IPA tasting of fresh grapefruits.  Then a walk to the British Museum and through security well in time for a talk on ‘Horses and Social Status in Iron Age Britain’.  Our speaker was a PhD student on a BM placement, she had wild-ish hair down to her bum, long velvet skirt and loose woven cotton top, every inch the Pre-Raphaelite idea of a Celtic lady.  Political Correctness has reached archaeology – she explained, “We don’t talk about Iron Age Tribes anymore – more about ‘Regional Groupings’ “.

She explained that horses were really ponies (think New Forest/ Exmoor), that there was no evidence of breeding (no bones of foals found),  and initially no wheels.  Some evidence of eating them, but mainly associated with high status bronze fittings (stuff to direct reins, bits and (mainly) stuff related to later wheeled chariot fittings.  Bronze decorated with impressed red glass (heat-softened glass pressed into recesses no true enamelling yet) as well as coral and bone inserts (often riveted into place).  The pieces below date from about 150 BC, give or take a century.

zoom in on brass fittings

Iron also used but less often preserved.  Iron had to be hammered into shape then, but casting bronze was done, as was hammering thin sheets of bronze over and around iron cores – giving strength and beauty.  We were shown Celtic Iron Age horses on coins in which the horse was semi-abstracted, often disjointed, and anatomically dubious.  As Roman influence arrived (well in advance of the AD 43 invasion) craftspeople began to adopt a more realistic horse appearance.

celtic coin horse

‘Celtic’ horse coin – some become even more symbolic.

romanic celtic coin horse

Roman influence on a British Iron Age coin.  Both coins found in hoard dated to 1st century AD.

I was particularly pleased to hear about the East Yorkshire chariot burials.  There is one from Scotland, and they are found on mainland Europe (or should I just say Europe now? lets not go there.  I don’t mean lets not go to Europe! For God’s sake).

wheel impression

Sorry.  In the boulder clay of the East Riding wood is hardly ever preserved, but in one burial (excavated in 1986) the impression of the wooden parts of a wheel were preserved as a fine clay infill.  Probably washed into the cavity left after the wood rotted, most likely during a flood event.  This is it – except the conservation folk have replaced the clay with fibre glass.  Some of the iron wheel rim and a ring around the hub is still in place.  The burial is about the same date as the brassware – some came from it.

After the talk I had some lunch and failure to get into the Photographers Gallery (early closure for private event – why didn’t the website say so?) I went to the National Portrait gallery (late opening Thursday) and visited the Howard Hodgkin exhibition, ‘Absent Friends’.  I was surprised to see that he actually depicted people as recognisable people in his earlier works, but later reduced them and their context to a series of memory shapes and colours.  I liked both.  I did not know that his marriage to a woman ended and he then had a male ‘constant companion’.  This term was in a caption to a near-erotic image of a naked man on a bed overlooking the Bay of Naples. But perhaps that eroticism was in the mind of the beholder.  Anyway I liked the painting so bought a fridge magnet of it.  Not as impressive as the 75 cm by 60 cm original.

Time for another pint of Arbor Pocket Rocket at the Harp before walking to the Royal Society of Medicine and the reunion there.  Delighted to meet 5 former students from my year.  Three in London now, one near Guildford and one in Horsham.  Of course I had met some of them previously, at the 25th anniversary re-union!

Our lecturer (Prof Corinne Le Quere) spoke of most carbon reduction coming from power generation, but much more needed in building construction and making use of solar gain, lots of progress needed in agriculture (she mentioned moving towards vegetarianism as a very good step), but transport, especially air travel, is huge issue, though vans and cars will (she hoped) move to electricity.  Public transport got me home by 11.30 pm, somewhat squiffy after many free glasses of red post-lecture.

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